Kings, Stars look to hit break with victory

DALLAS -- When the Los Angeles Kings and Dallas Stars square off Friday night at American Airlines Center, it marks the final game for both clubs before Christmas.

And the clubs share a common goal: To hit the the holiday break on a positive note. The Kings shut out Nashville 4-0 on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena to snap a two-game losing streak while the Stars lost 3-2 in overtime to St. Louis on Tuesday.

"We're fighting for I think a wild-card spot at the moment. (Dallas is) another team that's either behind us or right in front of us, so it'll be a good test," Kings forward Dwight King said after Thursday's victory in Nashville.

Peter Budaj stopped all 28 shots he faced Thursday for the Kings (17-13-3) to earn his fourth shutout of the season. Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter hasn't publicly said whether Budaj or backup Jeff Zatkoff will start Friday.

One player who appears unlikely to play for the Kings in Dallas is forward Tyler Toffoli, who is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Toffoli didn't play in Nashville, ending his string of 149 consecutive games played and his status is uncertain at best for Friday.

Thursday was a good night for veteran center Anze Kopitar, who picked up his 700th career point on the Kings' final goal, which was scored in the third period.

By snuffing out both Nashville power plays Thursday, the Kings improved to eighth in the NHL at 83.8 percent while extinguishing 23 penalties in a row.

"We are limiting the number of penalties we take," Sutter said. "It obviously helps -- two or three a game. We have good centermen that are pretty good penalty killers."

Dallas (13-14-7) is not only looking to hit the Christmas break with a win, but also hopes to finish its five-game homestand with two points.

The Stars are 2-1-1 in their first four games of the homestand, but as captain Jamie Benn put it after practice Thursday, there is always room for improvement.

"It's huge," Benn said of Friday's game. "We want to go into the break with a win. We're still working hard to keep moving up in the standings. It's just another two points that we can get."

Dallas might be a bit shorthanded for this battle with its former Pacific Division rival. Defenseman Stephen Johns appeared to leave Tuesday's loss with a lower-body injury while forward Antoine Roussel has been battling an undisclosed issue the past few days.

"Yeah, he (Roussel) will be a 50-50 for tomorrow (Friday)," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said after practice Thursday. "(He) couldn't finish practice yesterday and then couldn't practice today, so going to be further evaluated and we'll know more tomorrow (Friday), but it's still only what we feel is a game-to-game situation or a day-to-day situation."

Ruff placed Johns in the 50-50 category for Friday and even though the young defenseman practiced Thursday, he did so at far from 100 percent.

Dallas is still without veteran forward Patrick Sharp, who has been battling concussion symptoms for much of this season. Sharp is closer to returning but won't play Friday. And if Roussel can't go, Ruff could entertain the possibility of having one of his young defensemen -- likely 6-7 Jamie Oleksiak -- see time at forward.

"There's a chance of that," Ruff said. "The reason we actually dressed Jamie (Oleksiak) up in a forward color today (Thursday) was to use him some at forward. We've had him at forward in practice a few times. L.A.'s a big, strong team, so it could be important to us."

The Stars are 4-5-1 in the last 10 games while scoring 25 goals and allowing 25 during that span. Dallas led the NHL with 267 goals in 2015-16 but finds itself in the middle of the pack this season.

"It's hard to score. We've definitely got to go to the dirty areas and pretty much hang around the net," Benn said. "All the goals get scored within five feet of that net or off rebounds, so it's putting pucks there and going to the net. We probably have to take a couple whacks to put one home."

The Kings and Stars are no longer Pacific Division bunkmates, but Ruff faced Sutter-coached teams enough during his long coaching career to know that several things define the way he likes his teams to play.

"Yeah, tomorrow (Friday) is really going to be about battles. It's going to be about your one-on-one battles," Ruff said. "They're a team that they isolate you one-on-one and you either win your battle or you lose your battle. Tomorrow, it's going to be a contest where the one-on-ones really show up."
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