CAPITALS AT SABRES
The Christmas break couldn’t come soon enough for the slumping Buffalo Sabres, who have lost three straight games and continue to plummet in the Eastern Conference standings. Hoping to be refreshed after three days off, the Sabres face another of the league’s most disappointing teams when the Washington Capitals pay a visit to the First Niagara Center on Monday night. Buffalo is sitting in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, one slot and two points behind the Capitals, who have shown no signs of turning things around after busting out of the gate with a 7-0-0 record. Jason Chimera, Washington’s leading goal scorer, was not in a festive mood following Friday’s shootout loss at the New Jersey Devils. “I don’t know if guys were looking forward to the Christmas break or what was wrong. But the execution was terrible. We looked like peewee hockey players,” Chimera said.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, RIS, NHLN-CA, CSN-MA+
ABOUT THE CAPITALS (17-14-2): Switching coaches has failed to inspire Washington, which has gone 5-5-1 since Dale Hunter replaced Bruce Boudreau. Chimera scored a pair of goals to rally the Capitals from a 3-0 deficit against the Devils before they fell in the shootout. He now has a team-leading 13 goals, which is three more than last season and four shy of his career high set in 2005-06. G Michal Neuvirth has started four straight in place of slumping Tomas Vokoun.
ABOUT THE SABRES (16-15-3): Buffalo could be without leading goal scorer Thomas Vanek, who did not play in the final period of Thursday’s 3-2 loss at the Toronto Maple Leafs due to an upper-body injury. The Sabres need to find offense from someone other than Vanek and captain Jason Pominville. RW Drew Stafford has only six goals - two in the last 21 games - after pumping in 32 last season. He also started slowly a year ago before scoring 22 goals in his final 42 games.
1. Neuvirth is 3-0-0 lifetime against Buffalo. Vokoun was in net for a 5-1 loss at Buffalo on Nov. 26.
2. Pominville has two goals and eight assists in his last 10 games.
PREDICTION: Sabres 3, Capitals 2.
STARS AT BLUES
The Dallas Stars and rookie goaltender Richard Bachman have continued taking care of business. Bachman is expected to make his eighth straight start when Dallas visits the St. Louis Blues on Monday. Bachman (5-2-0), who appeared in one NHL game for 10 minutes prior to this season, has been a big reason why the Stars have remained at or near the top of the Pacific Division. Dallas is 7-4-0 since top goaltender Kari Lehtonen went down with a knee injury on Nov. 26. The Blues are 14-3-4 since Ken Hitchcock took over as coach, but 2-1-1 in their last four. St. Louis plays 10 of its next 13 at home, where it is 13-3-1. The Stars have won five straight over the Blues, including two in St. Louis. Dallas won the season’s first meeting at home 3-2.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, Versus
ABOUT THE STARS (20-13-1): Lehtonen practiced Thursday and could return against Columbus on Thursday or versus Boston on Saturday. He is not expected to play Monday. Dallas could be light on defense as Stephane Robidas (foot) has missed two straight games and Sheldon Souray left Friday’s 6-3 victory over Nashville with an ankle injury. Both are questionable for Monday’s tilt. Steve Ott has five points in as many games, including his first multi-point contest of the season (goal and assist) Friday. Mike Ribeiro has two goals and four points in his last three.
ABOUT THE BLUES (20-10-4): Goaltenders Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak have started 17 games apiece, with Elliott (14-3-0, NHL-leading 1.55 goals against average, .943 save percentage) owning a significant statistical advantage (6-7-4, 2.37, .903). Andy McDonald, who has missed 31 games since suffering a concussion against Dallas on Oct. 13, took a light skate Friday but is still far from returning to the lineup. C Vladimir Sobotka has missed five games (ankle) and is questionable.
1. Dallas is 50-0-5 when leading after two periods since a 4-2 loss at Nashville on Oct. 31, 2009.