Stars, Kings to square off in third meeting this season

LOS ANGELES -- Two underachieving teams will meet Monday at Staples Center hoping their play improves as the NHL season nears its midpoint.

The Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings meet for the third time after playing twice in Dallas earlier this season. The teams traded overtime victories, with Los Angeles winning 4-3 on Oct. 20 and Dallas grabbing a 3-2 win on Dec. 23.

The Stars' play play has been mediocre all season with little resemblance to the team that won the Central Division title with 109 points and advanced to the second round of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Dallas (16-16-8) has played .500 hockey in their last 10 games (5-3-2) primarily because of a surprising lack of offense. The Stars are ranked 19th in goals per game this season after finishing with the second-ranked offense last season. A decline in power play execution (dropping to 17.6 percent from 22.1 percent) is a major factor.

The Stars lost a 4-3 decision to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, surrendering a late goal for their eighth loss in their last 10 road games.

Though Patrik Berglund's game-winning goal was at even strength, the Stars allowed two power play goals and have the worst road penalty kill percentage in the NHL.

"We just have to keep working at our penalty kill," Stars forward Patrick Eaves said. "There's no simple solution. If there was, maybe we would have figured it out by now."

Without a better performance from their special teams, the Stars could be on the outside looking in at playoff time. Short of a long winning streak that would move them up in the highly competitive Central Division, Dallas will likely contend for a wild-card berth in the Western Conference for the balance of the season.

Frustration is growing for the team facing key back-to-back games in Los Angeles and Anaheim.

"I'm going to be honest. This one was tough, we deserved to win this game," Stars defenseman John Klingberg said after the loss to St. Louis. "We really needed the two points and had opportunities to win, but we need to be prepared for the next two games."

The Kings (20-16-4) have won three of their last four games, but like the Stars, they are well off last season's pace of 102 points. The lack of offense is a major factor in their inconsistent play. With 98 goals scored, they are ahead of only the two Western Conference cellar-dwellers, the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche.

The one player who has not suffered through the offensive woes is center Jeff Carter. His 22 goals only trail Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby (26) for the league lead.

Carter had a goal in Los Angeles' 4-3 overtime win over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday, his eighth in nine games.

Only Carter and Tanner Pearson (11 goals), who scored the game-winner Saturday, have registered double digits in goals.

An easy selection for the NHL All-Star Game staged at Staples Center later in the month, Carter could garner votes for the Hart Trophy, awarded the league's most valuable player if his play continues at this level.

"Jeff is clearly an All-Star and our team MVP," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said.

Los Angeles' uncanny success in overtime has kept them in the Pacific Division title race. Saturday's victory extended their record to 8-1 in the extra session as they become a much dangerous offensive team once play moves to three-on-three skating.

The Stars have been the only team to solve the Kings' overtime mastery when Esa Lindell scored at 1:07 of the extra session to even the season series and start a three-game winning streak for Dallas.

Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin provided an explanation as to why his team is so efficient after 60 minutes.

"It's all about puck possession. It's crucial with our team. We have good gaps in the neutral zone and we're quick in our zone," Muzzin said. "We have the puck on our stick a lot and we control the game that way. It carries into overtime as well."
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