Ottawa Senators (12-10-2, 26 pts) @ Dallas Stars (14-9-1, 29 pts)
7:30 PM CT, December 1, 2011
American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas
If Stars fans had known that two months into the season, their team would be tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and only four points out of first place in the Western Conference, they would have taken that in a heartbeat. Throw in the fact that injuries have decimated the roster and the Stars still somehow find themselves in this position is a small miracle. The PeskyStars begin their December schedule tonight when the Ottawa Senators come into town.
Dallas is hoping to build off of a much needed 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night. Andrew Raycroft was incredible in that game, stopping nearly everything as he put on a Kari Lehtonen-like game and getting his first win of the season. No players are returning from injury tonight for Dallas so they need to stay resilient as they take on a tough Eastern Conference foe.
The Senators are coming off a 6-4 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday. That game is pretty much indicitive of their season. There are no grind it out games when it comes to Ottawa; the Senators are a high-scoring, no defense team. They are 8th in the league in goals per game but are last, dead last, in goals against average this year. They are tied with the Carolina Hurricanes in giving up the most even strength (5-on-5) goals in the league (56). Carolina has actually given up two more goals on the season than the Senators, but the Hurricanes have played two extra games. The law of averages says that Ottawa has the worse defense in the NHL.
Much like Dallas, Ottawa is also a team that just can't stay out of the penalty box. The Stars have the second most penalty minutes in the NHL while Ottawa sits right behind them in third place. Only the Philadelphia Flyers are a less disciplined team than these two. Those penalties have led to a lot of goals against the Senators penalty kill (they rank 25th in the NHL in PK percentage). Ottawa has given up 11 road power-play goals, fourth most in the NHL. For a team that is struggling as much as Dallas is on their power-play, this could finally be the game in which they get good mileage out of their man-advantage.
Dallas will need to score a bunch tonight because Raycroft will have a tough time keeping the Senators off the scoreboard. Jason Spezza has 23 points this year (top-25 in the NHL) and has been on fire lately, scoring six points in his last five games. His line will be a tough test for the Ribeiro line tonight. Another guy to keep an eye on is Milan Michalek, who has 14 goals this season (top-3 in the NHL). The interesting thing to note is while both those guys are high scorers, they both have a negative +/- rating, indicitive of just how bad their defense is. The Stars can definitely take advantage of this with the likes of Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson.
As good as Spezza and Michalek have been this year, I think the two guys Dallas really needs to keep an eye on are the Senators top pair of defensemen, Sergei Gonchar and Erik Karlsson. Karlsson has 22 points on the season (tops among all defensemen) but 21 of those points have been assists, also the most in the NHL. He's a huge menace on the power-play, where he's gathered 10 of those assists. He's scored at least one point in eight of his last nine games so he's coming into this game on fire.
Gonchar has been nearly as good with 17 points this season, 15 of those as assists. He's just as dangerous as Karlsson on the power-play (1 goal and 8 assists). Gonchar has been on a tear like Karlsson as he's registered at least a point in seven of his last eight games. Dallas needs to really be careful tonight and mark their guys tightly or Karlsson and Gonchar will find them for easy goals. If those two have a good game tonight, the Stars will have a tough time winning this game.
In goal for the Senators will probably be Craig Anderson. Anderson is 11-7-1 this season with a 3.47 GAA and a .892 save percentage. He's given up at least three goals in three straight games but has somehow won five of the last six games he's played in.
Raycroft gets the start for Dallas. They will be without Kari Lehtonen (groin), Alex Goligoski (broken thumb), Adam Burish (broken hand), Brenden Morrow (upper body) and Trevor Daley (back).
Ottawa will be without four players for sure: Defensemen Matt Carkner (knee), Filip Kuba (upper body) and forwards Chris Neil (ankle) and Peter Regin (shoulder). It's also doubtful that forward Nikita Filitov will play in this game as he suffered a broken nose in their game against the Jets.
Notes and thoughts:
- Ottawa is 5-1-1 in their last 7 games. Ottawa has been outshot in six of those seven games however so they will give up chances.
- Ottawa has given up a power-play goal in five straight games.
- Tonight is a great chance for the Stars power-play to get back on track. If they can get on the man-advantage, they should shake things up and try Eric Nystrom on one of their units. Toby Petersen has been terrible as a replacement for Goligoski.