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Stars Not Overlooking Struggling Senators Tonight

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Every game presents a challenge, and one versus a team not fighting for a playoff position is no reason to expect an easy two points.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

After the Dallas Stars mounted a comeback to force overtime for the second straight game on Saturday night, head coach Ken Hitchcock gave a little insight into how the rest of the season is going to be. We all know that games versus teams the Stars are fighting for a Wild Card position will be huge. But those rare games against a team that isn’t fighting for playoff positioning, that are all but mathematically eliminated from postseason contention, could be easy to overlook. Much like tonight’s contest versus the Ottawa Senators.

There aren’t any easy wins in the NHL, though.

“What’s happening on the other side is that, the teams that are out have got fresh air going. They’ve removed a lot of players off their roster so they’ve got tryouts going and it’s going to be even harder. The game against Ottawa is going to be as tough as any we’ve played. They’ve got fresh legs in there, they’ve got enthusiasm and they’ve got guys trying to make the team next year.”

The Senators were the most talked about team at the trade deadline. After coming within a game of going to the Stanley Cup, the Senators are now near the bottom of the league’s standings. After making a trade for Matt Duchene from the Colorado Avalanche early in the year, the Senators have been in a tailspin.

As the weekend leading up to the trade deadline passed, rumors swirled that elite defenseman Erik Karlsson could be on the move. Mike Hoffman, a coveted forward target for teams looking to upgrade their offense, had been in the rumor mill long before that. They weren’t expected to be sellers at the deadline in October, but the team faced the hard reality that playoffs were not in the cards this year — and they had key trading chips in hand.

Neither of those guys ended up moving. After all, if you’re going to trade an elite player like Karlsson, the return had better be worthwhile for the organization. Most pundits believe that they’ll get a better return for key pieces like their blueliner in the summer, when teams have time to make the salary cap work for them. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the next time Karlsson plays at the American Airlines Center it will be in a different uniform.

His old defensive partner from last season, Marc Methot, knows that feeling all too well. He’ll face his old team for the first time tonight, and the emotion associated with that is likely going to provide him with some added motivation for tonight’s game. His new team will want to get a win for him, not only because they need the points after watching the Minnesota Wild win today and take back third place in the Central Division after surrendering it to Dallas last night, but to get a win versus a teammate’s old team is usually the way of hockey locker room cultures these days.

Dallas Stars Lineup

The Stars had an optional skate yesterday at practice, though head coach Ken Hitchcock indicated that Gemel Smith will play tonight. That means someone is likely banged up after the physical game they played Saturday afternoon versus the St. Louis Blues. We’ll have to wait for morning skate to determine who is coming out and what impact that might have on the lines, but we imagine they’ll try to keep the lines as close as possible to these used in the last game:

Jamie BennTyler SeguinJason Spezza
Devin ShoreMattias JanmarkAlexander Radulov
Antoine RousselRadek FaksaTyler Pitlick
Remi ElieJason DickinsonBrett Ritchie

Esa LindellJohn Klingberg
Dan HamhuisGreg Pateryn
Marc Methot — Stephen Johns

Ben Bishop starts in net tonight and Kari Lehtonen will get the road start tomorrow night when the Stars take on the Nashville Predators.

Bishop has put up great numbers on home ice. He’s rocking a 93.32 SV% in 32 games at home and a 90.06 SV% in 18 games on the road. His home save percentage ranks 5th in the league among goaltenders with at least 900 minutes played on home ice (basically starters in the league) according to Corsica. He sits behind only Antti Raanta (Arizona Coyotes, 94.53 SV%), Devan Dubnyk (Minnesota Wild, 94.39 SV%), Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus Blues Jackets, 93.9 SV%), and Braden Holtby (Washington Capitals, 93.4 SV%). That’s some pretty heady company.

Lehtonen, on the other hand, has a 93.51 SV% on the road in 14 games played compared to a 93.18 SV% in just eight games at home. Among goaltenders with at least 10 games played on the road, Lehtonen’s save percentage ranks 10th in the league.

Those stats seem to underscore Hitchcock’s deployment of his two goalies.

Ottawa Senators Lineup

Mike Hoffman - Matt Duchene - Tom Pyatt
Bobby Ryan - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Mark Stone
Ryan Dzingel - Zack Smith - Magnus Paajarvi
Max McCormick - Jim O’Brien - Alex Burrows

Fredrik Claesson - Erik Karlsson
Thomas Chabot - Cody Ceci
Mark Borowiecki - Ben Harpur

Craig Anderson is likely to get this start, with Mike Condon taking the loss on Saturday night when the Senators faced off against the Arizona Coyotes.