The Dallas Stars will look to head into the All-Star break on a positive note when they take on the Buffalo Sabres tonight at American Airlines Center.
"You'd like to have a good feeling going into the break," Stars center Jason Spezza said. "We've got to be ready to go. These are two points we need desperately."
The Stars (19-20-10) come into tonight's game with five losses in their past six games (1-3-2) and are four points out of a playoff spot with 33 games remaining.
"We've got to rack up some wins here," said Stars defenseman Patrik Nemeth. "The playoff train is starting to leave the station a little bit. We need to rack up some wins and build some momentum here towards the last couple months."
The Stars are coming off two solid efforts against two of the top teams in the league in Washington and Minnesota, going beyond regulation in both games but losing both. They lost in overtime to the Capitals on Saturday and then in a shootout to Minnesota on Tuesday.
"We've been trying to get on a run. We might have played two of our better games here against Washington and Minny and ended up with the same result," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "I thought we played a heck of a game against Washington and Minnesota too. The numbers were on our side, but we've missed too many opportunities on the execution side."
Antti Niemi was the first goaltender off the ice for the Stars this morning, so it appears he will get the start in goal tonight. It will be his first start since Jan. 17. He's been pulled in both his last two starts and has given up a goal on the first shot of the game in both. He's allowed nine goals on 31 shots in the two games.
"A lot of times for a goaltender it's making that big save to feel good about yourself," Ruff said. "Get him some quality practice time and some quality practice reps and focus on the fact for a good period of time he played really well at home for us."
No changes are expected at forward or defense. Jiri Hudler and Julius Honka are expected to be the scratches. It will be the third straight scratch for the veteran Hudler.
"I've made the decision that I am going bigger, stronger, more physical," Ruff said. "It's made our team look a lot harder to play against. You go to that Washington game, that was a big man game. That was a hard game physically. I felt five-on-five, we made a statement with the way we played, and we made it extremely tough on them because we were hard to get the puck from. If I want to do that, I have to put bigger bodies in. [Brett] Ritchie, you look at his numbers, he's a hard guy to take out. Look at [Curtis] McKenzie and what he's done, even his penalty killing, and if we want to improve five-on-five play those guys have to be in the lineup."
Anders Nilsson was the first goaltender off the ice for the Sabres this morning, so he is expected to get the start in goal. Nilsson is 8-6-4 with a 2.52 goals-against average and .925 save percentage. He won his last start, stopping 32 shots in a 3-2 overtime win over Detroit last Friday. The Sabres come into tonight's game with three straight wins, all of them in overtime.
Who: Buffalo Sabres at Dallas Stars
Where: American Airlines Center
When: 7:30 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 - Tyler Seguin - Jason Spezza
Lauri Korpikoski - Devin Shore - Patrick Sharp
Curtis McKenzie - Adam Cracknell - Brett Ritchie
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Jordie Benn
Patrik Nemeth - Stephen Johns
Scratched: Jiri Hudler, Julius Honka
Injured: Radek Faksa (lower body), Johnny Oduya (lower body), Jamie Oleksiak (hand), Ales Hemsky (hip), Mattias Janmark (knee)
Sabres Projected Lineup
Tyler Ennis - Ryan O'Reilly - Kyle Okposo
Marcus Foligno - Jack Eichel - Sam Reinhart
Evander Kane - Zemgus Girgensons - Brian Gionta
William Carrier - Cal O'Reilly - Matt Moulson
Dmitry Kulikov - Rasmus Ristolainen
Zach Bogosian - Cody Franson
Justin Falk - Taylor Fedun
Scratched: Nicolas Deslauriers, Casey Nelson
Injured: Josh Gorges (hip), Johan Larsson (wrist, elbow), Jake McCabe (shoulder), Cody McCormick (blood clot)
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 DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.