Thursday, December 1st, 2011, 7:30 PM CST
American Airlines Center
Opponent SB Nation Blog: Silver Seven
Earlier this season Dallas Stars' head coach Glen Gulutzan said his team needed to "make hay" while at home. A daunting five game trip kicks off for the depleted Stars in just seven days. This two game home stand with the Senators and Islanders before hand seems to be just the kind of hay-making opportunity he was talking about. To keep pace in the West the Stars would like to find some points tonight and Saturday, but a pesky Senator bunch stand in their way.
The big picture says the Stars are 3-6-1 in their last ten games, struggling to maintain a playoff spot, and are riddled with injury. A more recent view says their 2-1-1 in their last four games and are fighting their way to points more often than not without several key players, including their starting goaltender, Alex Goligoski, Adam Burish, Brenden Morrow and Trevor Daley.
Ottawa is 11-5-2 after a 1-5-0 start to the year. The Sens are coming off a third period comeback win in Winnipeg that saw them score three straight after trailing 4-3. They're 5-1-1 in their last seven games and downright dangerous offensively.
Andrew Raycroft, making his first consecutive starts of the season after Kari Lehtonen went down a groin injury, will have his hands full tonight at the American Airlines Center on Fox Sports Southwest. Make sure you check in with us during the game for the best place on the internet to discuss the game live.
Much more on each team after the jump...
Dallas was hoping to get captain Brenden Morrow back to go along with a healthy Trevor Daley, but neither have materialized. The lineup featured will be exactly the same one that played in Colorado on Monday night, pending a tweak of the fourth line.
Tomas Vincour should get another opportunity to show up on the score sheet while skating with Mike Ribeiro and Steve Ott, and Jamie Benn's line will look to build on a pretty solid effort in Colorado. Ryder found the net for the game winner off a feed from Loui Eriksson, but Benn was better despite going pointless. He's due to break out any time for Dallas.
The third line will remain intact: Vernon Fiddler, Eric Nystrom, Radek Dvroak. It might have been Dallas' most consistent trio in the month of November, providing offense, contributing to the PK, and drawing checking assignments more often that not. That's a luxury, but the Stars hope the Ribeiro and Benn lines bring more consistent production in December, as it's unlikely the Eric Nystrom goal parade will last for the duration of the season, as good as he's been.
Andrew Raycroft will start, of course, with Kari Lehtonen nursing his pulled groin for the next three to four weeks.
Dowell-Wandell-Barch/Petersen (or some combination thereof)
Watch the chess match with the line changes. With the Benn and Fiddler units likely watching the Spezza line and the really dangerous Foligno/Alfredsson/Michalek trios, will the Sens hot third line be able to burn Morrow/Ott/Vincour?
In their last seven games the Senators have scored an impressive 27 goals for an average of 3.86 per game! They are smoking right now on the offensive side of things and have given up only 2.85 the other way in that stretch. At the risk of stating the obvious, a full goal a game differential in your favor is a good way to win some hockey games. Don't be fooled by their 3.42 goals against per game this year. That's not the way they're playing any more.
This will be the Senators eighth road tilt in the span of nine games, and they're not done in Dallas. They travel to Washington to take on the aimless Capitals before heading home. They're a solid 6-6-1 on the road this season and are an impressive 4-2-1 overall against Western Conference opponents, including recent wins in Calgary and Edmonton.
The special teams advantage once again looks in the favor of the visiting team as the Senators bring with them the league's 5th ranked power play (before Wednesday night games) at 20.2%, and it's very nearly that good on the road this year too at 19.2%.
The Sens' third line was once again instrumental in Ottawa's win, and tonight it was Zmith who led the was for them. His first goal was controversial (the play probably should have been blown dead because it appeared Pavelec had the puck covered), but Zmith kept digging, loosened the puck, and put it in. The second was as nice as the first was gritty; a give-and-go with Sergei Gonchar set Zmith up to cut into the slot and fire a sweet snapper home. He also played a season-high 18:19 TOI, over four minutes of which was short-handed, and won 60% of his draws (9/15). It's been an incredible season for Smith so far; can we expect the production to continue?
The Senators lineup will looking something like this...
(Filip Kuba is likely out tonight, however, after suffering an upper body injury in Winnipeg Tuesday night. Other than that the Sens appear to be healthy. Which must be nice.)