It’s a measuring stick game for the Dallas Stars tonight as they take on the league-leading Washington Capitals at American Airlines Center.
The Capitals, who come into tonight’s game on a five-game winning streak, lead the NHL with 84 points (40-9-4).
“They’ve obviously had a heck of a year so far, probably the only team that hasn’t really gone through a tough stretch,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “We played a pretty good hockey game against them in Washington (3-2 win in November) and right now we know we got to take care of our game. We’re concerned with their strengths, but I think our game is coming around again, and we’d like to play to our strengths.”
The Stars come into tonight’s game with wins in five of their last six games. They are coming off a five-game stretch to open February that saw them go 4-1-0 against Central Division foes.
“We had a bit of a tough stretch [in January]. Everyone goes through that at some point during the season, but we’ve righted the ship a little,” said Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski. “I think our game’s still not where we want it to be, but we’re finding ways to get wins right now, and that’s an important part of being a good team.”
Kari Lehtonen was the first goaltender off the ice this morning, but he came off after getting dinged up during the morning skate. Ruff said Lehtonen should be OK. Antti Niemi didn’t skate all that late this morning, but the guess is Lehtonen will get a third consecutive start after stopping 81 of 86 shots in victories over Minnesota and Chicago this week.
Defenseman Jason Demers, who missed Thursday’s game due to illness, skated this morning and was in his usual spot on the second pair with Johnny Oduya. Ruff said he was hopeful Demers will go tonight.
“He’s doing a lot better, so we’ll hope to play him tonight,” Ruff said. “We’ll have probably an extra guy dressed and see how he’s doing tonight.”
Jamie Oleksiak and Jyrki Jokipakka skated late, so one of those two would likely be the extra defenseman in warm-ups.
Forward lines this morning were the same as last game except for Radek Faksa slotting in on the fourth line for the injured Travis Moen, who did not skate this morning.
Braden Holtby will get the start in goal tonight for the Capitals. He is 35-5-3 with a 2.10 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. Holtby, who is 27-1-3 since Nov. 12, did not play when the Stars defeated the Capitals, 3-2, earlier this season. Washington has lost eight straight games to Dallas. Washington coach Barry Trotz even knows the date of the Capitals’ last win against the Stars.
“October 25, 2008, we’ll mention it,” Trotz said. “I think it’s important. Anything that’s been a roadblock, anything that’s been something that people have told us you haven’t done this, or you haven’t done that, or your history shows that you haven’t done that, that’s something that we want to get out of the way, and we want something else. It’ll be part of what we talk about. It’s been sort of mentioned this morning, and it’ll be mentioned tonight too.”
Washington’s Alex Ovechkin comes into the game on a roll. He has eight goals in his past eight games, including three in Thursday’s 4-3 win at Minnesota. Ovechkin leads the NHL with 34 goals.
Who: Washington Capitals at Dallas Stars
Where: American Airlines Center
When: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest
Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Patrick Eaves
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Patrick Sharp
Valeri Nichushkin – Mattias Janmark – Ales Hemsky
Vernon Fiddler – Radek Faksa – Colton Sceviour
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya – Jason Demers
Patrik Nemeth – Jordie Benn
Injured: Travis Moen (lower body), Jason Spezza (upper body)
Scratched: Jamie Oleksiak, Jyrki Jokipakka
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – TJ Oshie
Andre Burakovsky – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams
Jason Chimera – Marcus Johansson – Tom Wilson
Brooks Laich – Mike Richards – Stanislav Galiev
Nate Schmidt – John Carlson
Karl Alzner – Matt Niskanen
Dmitry Orlov – Taylor Chorney
Injured: Jay Beagle (upper body), Brooks Orpik (lower body)
Scratched: Michael Latta
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.