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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.

OVERTIME:

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.

OVERTIME:

1. Dallas is 50-0-5 when leading after two periods since a 4-2 loss at Nashville on Oct. 31, 2009.

2. The Blues have the league’s worst power play at 10.3 percent.

PREDICTION: Blues 3, Stars 2.

DEVILS AT HURRICANES

Changing their head coach has not exactly worked out for the Carolina Hurricanes thus far. Now Kirk Muller and assistant John MacLean will try to put an end to their new team’s woes against one of their former clubs as the Hurricanes host the New Jersey Devils on Monday. Carolina replaced Paul Maurice with Muller on Nov. 28 but still is struggling as it began the new regime’s tenure with four straight losses and is 3-6-2 overall since the switch. New Jersey has won five straight meetings with the Hurricanes - including two at home this season - and enters Monday’s matchup with a four-game winning streak on the road.

TV: 7 p.m. ET, MSG Plus (New Jersey)

ABOUT THE DEVILS (19-14-1): Despite its current winning streak against the Hurricanes, New Jersey has lost seven of its last 10 games in Carolina. The Devils, who have won five of six overall, are one of three teams occupying a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference yet to score 100 goals. Ilya Kovalchuk has caught fire, registering seven goals and 16 points in his last 13 games.

ABOUT THE HURRICANES (11-19-6): Carolina has earned at least a point in four of its last five games (2-1-2). It has lost 22 of 30 overall and seven of nine against the Atlantic Division. The Hurricanes have dropped six of their last eight at home but have won two of three. Andreas Nodl has scored a goal in two straight games. The 24-year-old failed to notch a point in his first eight contests with Carolina after being claimed off waivers from the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 29.

OVERTIME:

1. New Jersey has won 15 of its last 20 meetings with Southeast Division opponents.

2. The Devils are 10-1 this season in games that go beyond regulation, including an 8-1 mark in shootouts.

3. Hurricanes captain Eric Staal has a league-worst minus-21 rating.

PREDICTION: Devils 4, Hurricanes 2.

RED WINGS AT PREDATORS

There was a time when the Nashville Predators couldn’t buy a victory over the Detroit Red Wings. The times certainly have changed as the Predators look to extend their home points streak against the Red Wings to six games when the Central Division rivals face off at Bridgestone Arena on Monday. Nashville is 3-0-2 in its last five home meetings with Detroit and has won five of the last seven overall matchups between the clubs. The Predators also will be attempting to extend their overall home winning streak to six games. Detroit is 1-2-0 on its four-game road trip and has dropped five of seven away from home. The Red Wings have won 12 of their last 17 overall, but have lost two in a row and three of five.

TV: 8 p.m. ET, FSN (Detroit), FSN Tennessee (Nashville)

ABOUT THE RED WINGS (21-12-1): Ty Conklin received a rare start Thursday at Calgary but fell to 1-4-0 on the season. Conklin, whose five starts and one relief appearance this campaign all have come on the road, hasn’t won since posting a shutout at Colorado in his season debut on Oct. 8. D Mike Commodore also made an appearance Thursday, playing in just his fourth game of 2011-12. The 32-year-old veteran, who had been a healthy scratch for 17 straight contests, had not seen the ice since Nov. 15 at St. Louis.

ABOUT THE PREDATORS (18-13-4): Nashville has won six of its last eight games but has dropped two of three. Pekka Rinne did not fare well in Friday’s loss at Dallas. Rinne allowed three goals on only seven shots before being pulled for the fourth time this season. “He didn’t have a great warmup, and when they got to three, just to change some momentum, I put (Anders Lindback) in there,” Predators coach Barry Trotz explained. Nashville shut down Dallas’ power play, marking the first time in four games it has not yielded a man-advantage goal.

OVERTIME:

1. The Red Wings have gone 0-for-8 on the power play over the first three games of their road trip.

2. Nashville has won four straight games against divisional opponents, but Detroit has dropped four of five versus the Central.

PREDICTION: Red Wings 4, Predators 3.

COYOTES AT KINGS

The Los Angeles Kings will try for their third straight game with a point under new coach Darryl Sutter when they host the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday. Los Angeles posted a shootout victory over the Anaheim Ducks at home in Sutter’s debut on Thursday, then took the Sharks to another shootout before succumbing in San Jose the following night. Thursday’s win was just the Kings’ third in their last eight contests at home. Phoenix has performed well on the road of late, winning four of six and 11 of 16. Overall, the Coyotes have lost five of eight, with the three wins coming in their last five games.

TV: 10 p.m. ET, FSN Arizona Plus (Phoenix), FSN West (Los Angeles)

ABOUT THE COYOTES (18-14-3): Jason LaBarbera will make his third consecutive start as Mike Smith continues to recover from a lower body injury. LaBarbera defeated the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday before losing to the St. Louis Blues two days later, allowing three goals in each contest. Martin Hanzal took a high stick to the face from David Backes early in the third period of Friday’s loss and did not return. Hanzal, who was helped off the ice but appeared to be feeling better after the game, has scored just five goals in 33 contests this season after netting a career-high 16 in 61 matches last

campaign.

ABOUT THE KINGS (16-14-5): Mike Richards has scored a goal in each of his two games following an eight-game absence due to a head injury. A two-time 20-goal scorer, Trent Hunter failed to tally more than 14 times in any of the past four seasons and is unlikely to reach that mark in 2011-12 as he has one goal in 20 games. After totaling 61 goals in his first three full seasons, Hunter has scored 39 in 235 games over the last five campaigns.

OVERTIME:

1. Phoenix has won four of its last five games against division rivals but has dropped four of five vs. Western Conference opponents.

2. The Coyotes are 6-3-1 in their last 10 meetings with the Kings.

PREDICTION: Kings 3, Coyotes 1.

DUCKS AT SHARKS

Bruce Boudreau is doing his best to look at the positives. Considering where the Anaheim Ducks sit in the standings, well ... the glass is far from half full. The Ducks limped into the Christmas break having lost 24 of their last 29 games to plummet to the bottom of the Pacific Division. While Boudreau hasn’t been there for all of the setbacks, he’s seen his fair share already - including a 3-2 shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Friday. “I hate to keep saying it, but I think we played pretty solid,” Boudreau said. “The difference between winning and losing sometimes is just the attitude of believing you’re going to win and believing you’re going to lose.” Boudreau is hoping the Ducks’ attitude changes when they visit HP Pavilion to face the Pacific Division rival San Jose Sharks on Monday. Anaheim has posted just a 2-10-5 mark away from home - including 13 straight without a victory. For its part, division-leading San Jose matched a season high with four straight wins to start its six-game homestand.

TV: 10:30 p.m. ET, KDOC, CSCA

ABOUT THE DUCKS (9-19-6): Veteran Teemu Selanne saw his point streak end at nine contests as the Ducks lost their fourth in a row. D Lubomir Visnovsky collected a goal and an assist in each of his last two games. The All-Star blue-liner is showing signs of reverting to form after missing 13 contests with a broken finger. LW Niklas Hagman seems to have found a home in Anaheim, notching four goals in his last five games. He struggled upon joining the team, scoring just one goal in 10 contests.

ABOUT THE SHARKS (19-10-3): San Jose was making strides with its struggling penalty kill, but saw its streak end at 10 after Los Angeles’ Mike Richards scored in the second period. The Sharks are tied for the second-worst penalty kill percentage (74.7) in the NHL. C Logan Couture scored his team’s lone goal in regulation. He has collected six points in his last five games.

OVERTIME:

1. Anaheim is one of two NHL teams to have yet to record a shorthanded goal this season. The Calgary Flames are the other.

2. San Jose welcomed back a familiar face in G Antero Niittymaki. He appeared in three games with Worcester of the American Hockey League while working on his conditioning following hip surgery.

PREDICTION: Sharks 4, Ducks 2.

ISLANDERS AT RANGERS

The battle of New York has become a game of opposites as the Atlantic Division-leading New York Rangers host the last-place New York Islanders on Monday. This is the fourth of six meetings between the two division rivals this season. After dropping the first contest, the Rangers have won the last two. Each game in the series has been decided with a 4-2 final score. The Rangers have won four straight games and six of their last eight. The Islanders, on the other hand, have lost two straight and six of their last eight contests. The Islanders sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference - 11 points out of a playoff position. The postseason remains a distant memory for the Islanders, who have not qualified for the second season since 2007.

TV: 7 P.M. ET. MSG, MSG+2

ABOUT THE ISLANDERS (11-16-6): New York fell 5-3 at home to the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to the short Christmas break. Kyle Okposo, John Tavares and Frans Nielsen scored in the loss. For Okposo, he has scored six goals this season - with them all coming in the last 15 contests. Evgeni Nabokov made 22 saves, but fell to 2-7-0 on the season. On the upside, Tavares has three goals and six points in three games against the Rangers this campaign. Matt Moulson and P.A. Parenteau each have five points, while captain Mark Streit has four. The Isles are 4-5-1 in their last 10 and 5-7-3 on the road this season.

ABOUT THE RANGERS (21-8-4): New York is coming off a 4-2 home win over the Philadelphia Flyers in a preview of the 2012 Bridgestone Winter Classic on Jan. 2. By virtue of playing one less game, the Rangers also claimed the Atlantic Division lead with the win. G Henrik Lundqvist made 28 saves and Marian Gaborik collected his NHL-best 21st goal in the victory. The Blueshirts are 6-3-1 in their last 10 and 10-3-2 at Madison Square Garden. Brandon Dubinsky has four points in three games against the Islanders this season, while Gaborik has two goals.

OVERTIME:

1. Rangers backup G Martin Biron is 7-1-0 this season. He sports a 1.84 goals-against average and .933 save percentage.

2. The Islanders have been haunted by injuries this year. Currently, Brian Rolston, Steve Staios, Rick DiPietro, Al Montoya and David Ullstrom are out with concussions. Jay Pandolfo is also sidelined with a broken foot.

3. The Rangers are 16-1-1 when scoring first this season.

PREDICTION: Rangers 4, Islanders 2.

AVALANCHE AT WILD

There is perhaps no other team in the NHL that could have used the two-day holiday break more than the Minnesota Wild. The surprise team of the first two months as they shot into first place in the Western Conference, the Wild suffered six consecutive losses to enter the Christmas break. Minnesota wasn’t exactly scoring in bunches on its way up the standings, but lately things have gotten worse offensively. The Wild have scored one or no goals in five of their last six games and are have had the injury bug hit top players like Mikko Koivu and Devin Setoguchi. Hoping to take advantage of Minnesota on Monday will be the visiting the Northwest Division rival Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche just finished up a 4-0-0 homestand, pushing over .500 for the first time since Nov. 10 with a 2-1 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.

TV: 6 p.m. ET, ALT (Colorado), FSNO (Minnesota)

ABOUT THE AVALANCHE (18-17-1): Colorado is unstoppable at home, winning eight straight at the Pepsi Center. The road has been a different story. The Avalanche have not won away from home ice since a 5-4 shootout victory at Chicago on Oct. 22 - the last in a string of six road wins to begin the season. Colorado had success on its last homestand behind G Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who started all four games while yielding two goals or less in each.

ABOUT THE WILD (20-11-5): Koivu is expected to be back in the lineup on Monday, allowing Minnesota to push back its centers and perhaps get something going on a power play that has been shut out in 10 chances over the last four games. Setoguchi is still on injured reserve and Guillaume Latendresse is out indefinitely with a concussion, putting more pressure on Dany Heatley to produce.

OVERTIME:

1. Giguere made 17 saves in a 1-0 loss to the Wild on Nov. 17 and owns a 9-10-2-3 record in 24 career starts against Minnesota.

2. The Wild have taken four straight and five of six in the series.

3. Heatley has not had a multi-point game since Nov. 8.

PREDICTION: Wild 2, Avalanche 1.

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