THE STORY: The Ottawa Senators are proving they can beat teams below them on a regular basis (see wins this week against the Winnipeg Jets and Carolina Hurricanes), but the Dallas Stars provide a more substantial challenge. The Stars are one of the surprise teams in the Western Conference, racking up 14 wins and currently sitting seventh in the standings. Can Ottawa keep rolling in Texas?
THE SUBPLOTS: Earlier this season, when the Senators started stringing wins together, the question was ‘when will they drop off?’ Now the question is: ‘Will they drop off?’ Who would have thought this young team, coming off such a disappointing season, would be over .500 and sitting in a playoff position in December? More good news: The team plays nine of 15 games at home this month.
THE WILDCARD: Brian Lee. Remember when Ottawa hated Filip Kuba? Well, he’s actually been pretty darn good this season, playing an average of over 22 minutes per game, so losing him indefinitely to an upper body injury hurts. Unto the breach steps Brian Lee, who has been sitting in favour of David Rundblad the past couple of games. Here is Lee’s chance to show the coaches he’s more than a fill-in.
THE OPPONENT: The Stars have been a pleasant surprise so far, but now we’ll really see what they’re made of. Goalie Kari Lehtonen, who has battled his share of injury problems throughout his career, is out once again with groin problems. Now Dallas has to rely on Andrew Raycroft, which is always a scary prospect. Can it maintain a decent pace until the No. 1 returns?
THE QUOTE: “How the game went back and forth, it almost feels like one of those overtime wins, and you have a bigger high coming off it because of the way the game went. It was a huge win for us.” — Senators defenceman Chris Phillips on the Senators’ 6-4 win over the Winnipeg Jets in their previous game.
THE SICK BAY: Senators — (D) M. Carkner (knee), (C) P. Regin (shoulder), (RW) C. Neil (ankle), Filip Kuba (upper body). Stars — (D) A. Goligoski (thumb), (RW. Adam Burish (hand), (LW) Morrow (upper body), (D) T. Daley (back), (G) K. Lehtonen (groin).
THE PREDICTION: Another close one here. The Stars are without Lehtonen, who led the league in wins for most of the first quarter of the season. Taking his place is Raycroft, who won rookie of the year eons ago and proceeded to be terrible at goaltending (he has one win in five starts this season). While that alone should push me towards a Senators pick, I have to give the edge to Dallas at home. Senators 3, Stars 4. (SEE WHO THE REST OF OUR PREDICTION PANEL LIKES IN THIS ONE).