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Gameday Preview: Ottawa Senators @ Dallas Stars (2:00pm CST)

An early one at the AAC sees the Stars fighting for their lives against Ottawa.

The Dallas Stars felt better about their effort Thursday night against the Flyers after dropping lopsided decisions to the Pittsburgh Penguins (5-1) and Winnipeg Jets (7-2) to open the road trip. The result they wanted wasn't there, but film shows a bounce back they hope is a key step toward a solid finish to the season.

Shawn Horcoff figures to return to action this afternoon (finger), and he's keeping the most level of views after the team's sharp down-turn.

"There shouldn't be a whole lot of panic," said Horcoff. "We were going at a pretty good clip and there's going to be a dip. We just had our's hopefully, so you've got to hope that the the law of averages work out. If we go and play well and win our game in hand and we beat them [PHX] head to head then we're in. That has to be our thinking."

That head-to-head matchup would be the season's last. There's quite a bit to do before then, and it starts today. And early.

The guess is that Kari Lehtonen is back in net after Tim Thomas allowed four goals in Philadelphia Thursday.

Before the Olympic break the Senators, as recently as February 7th, found themselves a single point out of a wild card spot in the East and just two points out of sixth place. Fast forward to today and things don't look so rosy. The Sens are eight points out of a playoff spot with just 13 games to play, a -36 goal differential and a 2-6-2 record in their last 10 games.

They don't have much going for them. They're pretty decent on the road, however, with a 15-13-7 record, and they're a very competent 6-3-3 against the Central Division this thus far. There are very few Eastern Conference teams with better points percentages against the Central than that.

Still, they're 0-3-2 in their last five games and have treated their fans to just two wins over the course of the last 44 days. The Stars have a disadvantaged group here in front of them today, and if they think they're a playoff team they must find a way to dispatch the Senators.

Ottawa is surrendering 4.54 goal per game against over their last 11 contests while scoring just 2.8, though they have reached four in three of their last four outings. It's been six games since the Stars got to four.

Bobby Ryan highlights the Senator threat today. The former Duck and lifetime member of the Stars-killer club should be licking his chops in preparation for this one, looking to break out of a slump that's seen him score just once in his last nine games. He had a goal and an assist in Dallas' visit to Ottawa in November.

Their lineup:




Like the Jets earlier in the week, it's easy to glance at their lineup and wonder why they're not better. They have some talent that can beat you on any given shift. The Stars hope to avoid what Winnipeg did to them, however, and keep Spezza, Hemsky, Ryan and company off the scoreboard.

CBC wonders about the team's direction...

With their top centre back, their world-class defenceman recovered from a severe leg injury and another young defenceman, Cowen, back from serious hip surgery, the team was ready to go with the addition of MacArthur and Bobby Ryan. Notwithstanding the departure of the team's captain and leader for the past 13 seasons.

But unlike last year, the 2013-14 Ottawa Senators haven't found an identity. Those young players who led the way last year have struggled and the new leadership group hasn't met expectations. Colin Greening and Patrick Wiercioch are chief among the underachievers.

This journey has been anything but easy. The final 13 games of the season, whether it's a playoff push or a tryout for next season, will indicate what direction this team takes.

Next season will also provide a glimpse of the franchise's future. MacArthur, Spezza, Ryan, Craig Anderson, Marc Methot and Erik Condra are all set to be unrestricted free agents in 2015. []