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Stars set for another good test in league-leading Capitals

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

After going 4-1-0 in a five-game stretch against Central Division teams, including Thursday’s 4-2 win in Chicago, the Dallas Stars have another good test looming on the horizon. The league-leading Washington Capitals are coming to town to take on the Stars Saturday night at American Airlines Center.

“They are the best team in the league right now, and we want to see where we measure up at this time of the year,” said Stars forward Patrick Eaves. “We’ve been playing hard opponents and kind of gearing up to the way they play. It’s been a grind, and it’s going to keep being a grind. We’ve just got to keep playing good hockey.”

The Capitals lead the NHL with 84 points (40-9-4), and they come into Saturday’s game on a roll. They’ve won five straight and are 12-2-1 in their past 15 games. They’ve lost consecutive games just twice this season and have yet to drop more than two in a row. The Capitals are 10-2-2 against the Western Conference, including 5-1-1 against the Central Division. That one regulation loss against the Central came was at the hand of the Stars.

“They are really impressive. You see their record and the tear their goalie is on and everything they are doing offensively, too,” said Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski. “It’s a measuring stick for sure. They are the best team in the league right now. We played well against them the last time, and I think we match up pretty well against them. It will be an exciting one.”

The Capitals lead the NHL in goal scoring, goal differential (plus-57) and on the power play (24.2 percent). They aren’t solid on the other side of the puck. They rank fifth in goals against (2.26), third in team save percentage (.922), and their penalty kill is fourth (83.9 percent).

“They know they can score, but I think they want to believe they can lock it down when the game is right there in their hands,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “They’ve got all the components. They’ve got the speed; they’ve got the skill. I like the defense they’ve got. Their all-around game has been good. [Goaltender Branen] Holtby has been excellent.

As the league’s top team comes to town, the Stars appear to be getting their game in order again. After a rough month of January, the Stars have started February strong. They put together that 4-1-0 run against Central teams to start the month and they are 6-2-0 in their past eight games. The Stars, who rank second in the league in points percentage and third in points, are riding high after Thursday’s win in Chicago that pulled them to within one point of the Central Division-leading Blackhawks with three games in hand.

“We like where we are at, but there is still a little to be desired where our game is,” Goligoski said. “Little inconsistencies and details within the game we know we can be better at. That’s a good mindset to have, it’s healthy. Everyone wants to get better.”

And they’ll have a good chance to test their progress Saturday night against the Capitals, a team they beat 3-2 in Washington back in November.

“Our last game [against them] was a heck of a game,” Ruff said, “and I think this one is going to be a heck of a game, too.”

*Defenseman Jason Demers, who missed Thursday’s game due to illness, could play Saturday.

“Demers is feeling a lot better,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “We don’t know if was food poisoning or a one-day bug, but there is a good chance he’ll be available to play tomorrow.”

*Forward Travis Moen, who left Thursday’s game in the second period with a lower-body injury, is out for Saturday.

“Moen looks like he is going to be out a little bit of time, but we don’t know how long,” Ruff said.

*Forward Jason Spezza, who is on injured reserve with an upper-body injury, skated before Friday’s optional practice. Ruff said Spezza could join the team for practice at some point next week.

*He skated pretty good,” Ruff said. “It is still going to be some time. I wouldn’t expect anything until joining practice later in the week, joining practice later in the week.”

Here’s a look at how the Stars and Capitals match up statistically heading into Saturday night’s game at American Airlines Center. Stats and rankings are through Thursday’s games.

Here’s a look at how the Stars have fared month by month in some key statistical categories.

Category Stars Capitals
Record 35-15-5 -- 75 points (3rd) 40-9-4 -- 84 points (1st)
Points percentage .682 (2nd) .792 (1st)
Home 19-7-0 -- 38 points (4th) 20-4-2 -- 42 points (3rd)
Away 16-8-5 -- 37 points (5th) 20-5-2 -- 42 points (2nd)
Goals for 3.24 (2nd) 3.30 (1st)
Goals against 2.67 (19th) 2.26 (3rd)
Goal differential/game 0.56 (2nd) 1.04 (1st)
5-on-5 GF/GA Ratio 1.13 (5th) 1.49 (1st)
Shooting percentage 10.0 (2nd) 10.8 (1st)
Save percentage .909 (20th) .922 (3rd)
Power play 22.1 (5th) 24.2 (1st)
Penalty kill 80.0 (20th) 83.9 (4th)
Shots for 32.5 (2nd) 30.6 (9th)
Shots against 29.2 (12th) 28.8 (9th)
Shot differential/game 3.2 (5th) 1.7 (8th)
Shot attempts % close (Posession) 55.01 (2nd) 49.97 (18th)
Faceoff % 50.7 (7th) 49.7 (21st)

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 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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