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Stars look to get on track with six-game homestand

Lehtonen in goal, Ritchie and McKenzie back in the lineup tonight vs. Capitals

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

The Dallas Stars open a stretch of six straight games at home when they take on the Washington Capitals tonight at American Airlines Center.

It's a big stretch of games for the Stars, who are 19-20-8 on the season and sitting five points out of a playoff spot after Friday's games.

"It's huge for us, especially the three games before the All-Star break," said Stars center Radek Faksa. "We need to get back on the track and get as many points as we can and get closer to a playoff spot."

The Stars, who are coming off a 1-2-0 road trip, are 12-7-4 at home. They posted a 3-1-1 record in their last extended homestand back in December.

"Every game is huge for us, and we've played better hockey at home," said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. "We've got to establish a game that allows us to win, which we've done for the most part when we are playing here. This is our building, and we want to dictate play."

They'll face a stiff challenge tonight in the Capitals, who come into tonight's game on a 12-game points streak (10-0-2). Washington has scored seven goals in both of their past two games and 54 goals over the past 11 (4.91 per game).

"We have to limit their opportunities, and we have to limit the opportunities for their better players," Ruff said. "We're going to have to play a game where if you want to look at 50-50 battles, one-on-one battles, our determination is going to have to be greater. They're a good team at that, so it is going to be a hard contest."

Video: Stars ready for home matchup with Capitals

Ruff said he will make some changes at forward tonight, bringing in both Brett Ritchie and Curtis McKenzie. Ritchie has been a healthy scratch the past two games, and McKenzie has been a scratch the past eight.

"When I talk about winning battles, I may have to put bigger, stronger players in to win battles," Ruff said. "Brett has been one of our best guys with possession and so has Curtis. So, you've got two bigger, stronger men on the puck that we need to have to win the battles. I know players are trying hard, but if some players aren't winning the battles, then you need to change some pieces around."

The Stars didn't run lines this morning, but Lauri Korpikoski skated late, so it appears he will be one of the healthy scratches up front. One other forward will need to sit, and we'll probably find that out in warm-ups.

Ruff is expected to go with the same six defensemen as last game. Julius Honka, who was called up from the AHL due to the lower-body injury to Johnny Oduya, skated late and is the expected scratch on defense.

Kari Lehtonen was the first goaltender off the ice for Dallas this morning, so he is expected to get the start in goal. 

Capitals Watch

Philipp Grubauer is expected to get the start in goal tonight for the Capitals. The Washington backup is 8-1-2 with a 1.96 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. His last start was a 24-save shutout against Philadelphia on Jan. 15. Defenseman John Carlson skated this morning but remains out with a lower-body injury. The Capitals have lost nine straight games against the Stars with their last win against Dallas coming on Oct. 25, 2008. Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen, who played for the Stars from 2007 to 2011, will play in his 700th NHL game tonight.

Tonight's Game

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

Stars Projected Lineup

Jamie Benn - Cody Eakin - Patrick Eaves
Antoine Roussel - Jason Spezza - Tyler Seguin
Devin Shore - Radek Faksa - Patrick Sharp
Curtis McKenzie - Adam Cracknell - Brett Ritchie

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Jordie Benn
Patrik Nemeth - Stephen Johns

Kari Lehtonen
Antti Niemi

Scratched: Jiri Hudler, Lauri Korpikoski, Julius Honka
Injured: Johnny Oduya (lower body), Jamie Oleksiak (hand), Ales Hemsky (hip), Mattias Janmark (knee)

Capitals Projected Lineup

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Daniel Winnik - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Dmitry Orlov
Taylor Chorney - Nate Schmidt

Philipp Grubauer
Braden Holtby

Scratched: None
Injured: John Carlson (lower body)

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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