Matt Pryor The Hockey Writers
Preview: Stars Host Red-Hot Senators
What happens when a team whose top players are all on scoring streaks meets a team whose goalie is playing lights-out hockey?
That question will begin to answer itself at 7:14 p.m. Central tonight, when the puck drops between the Dallas Stars and Ottawa Senators.
The Stars come into Wednesday’s game with several key players running hot: Jamie Benn is on a seven-game scoring streak, posting 5 goals – 5 assists – 10 points over the span, John Klingberg has points (3g – 5a – 8pts.) in six straight games, Jason Spezza has scored (3g – 2a – 5pts.) in four straight and Tyler Seguin has five assists in his last three games.
They’ll try to keep their individual streaks alive against Senators goalie Craig Anderson, who arrived in Dallas riding a personal four-game win streak. Since returning to action February 11 after missing December and January to be with his wife during her cancer treatments, Anderson is 7-2-0 with a .944 save percentage and one shutout.
The playoff-bound Sens are powered by more than their goalie, however.
“I think they’re close to the best team [at] creating opportunities through the neutral zone by getting you to turn over the puck,” said Stars bench boss Lindy Ruff. “So our play between the blue lines is going to be important.”
The Senators will have to create those opportunities without center Kyle Turris, who won’t play tonight and may not play any of the three games on this road trip due to a finger injury, according to coach Guy Boucher.
Ottawa Senators at Dallas Stars
American Airlines Center – 7:00 pm CST
Broadcast channels – FS-SW, SN360, RDS
2016-17 Season Series: Feb. 9 – Senators 3, Stars 2
Ottawa Senators: 36-22-6 – 78 Points
Road Record: 17-12-0
Hot Players: Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman, Alexandre Burrows and Craig Anderson
Key Injuries: Kyle Turris, Bobby Ryan, Clarke MacArthur and Chris Neil
Alexandre Burrows – Derrick Brassard – Mark Stone
Mike Hoffman – Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Tom Pyatt
Ryan Dzingel – Zack Smith – Chris DiDomenico
Viktor Stalberg – Chris Kelly – Tommy Wingels
Dion Phaneuf – Cody Ceci
Marc Methot – Erik Karlsson
Mark Borowiecki – Chris Wideman
Dallas Stars: 27-29-10 – 64 Points
Home Record: 18-11-6
Hot Players: Kari Lehtonen, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, John Klingberg and Jason Spezza
Key Injuries: Antoine Roussel and Mattias Janmark
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Jason Spezza
Remi Elie – Cody Eakin – Ales Hemsky
Devin Shore – Radek Faksa – Patrick Sharp
Curtis McKenzie – Adam Cracknell – Brett Ritchie
Esa Lindell – John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis – Stephen Johns
Jamie Oleksiak – Patrik Nemeth
1) With Turris out, forward Chris DiDomenico will make his NHL debut either tonight in Dallas or tomorrow in Arizona. DiDomenico was a sixth-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2007 but never played for his hometown club. After two seasons bouncing between the AHL and ECHL, he headed to Europe. Since 2012, DiDomenico has split his time between the Italian and Swiss pro leagues. When he makes his NHL debut, said Boucher, the 28-year-old rookie will play on the right wing with Zack Smith at center, according to Sens radio host Dean Brown.
2) The Senators aren’t the only team with a hot goalie in net tonight: Kari Lehtonen is 4-1-0 with a .921 save percentage in his last five starts. Stars fans, don’t drive yourselves crazy asking the question, “Where was THIS Kari from October through February?” Just enjoy the ride.
3) Is it tougher to play against a big, physical defenseman like Dion Phaneuf, or a more skilled blueliner like Erik Karlsson? Veteran Stars forward Patrick Sharp had the answer:
“A little bit of both; I mean, it’s pick your poison back there. You really need to be aware of who you’re on the ice against and play accordingly,” said Sharp. “Dion is a physical defender that can make you pay in a lot of different ways physically, plus he’s got an offensive side to his game as well. Karlsson…you need to know where he is on the ice at all times. He can make plays out of nothing, he’s one of the best offensive players in the game and he’s got good defensive instincts as well. Maybe not as physical as Dion, but just as dangerous.”
4) Sharp wasn’t the only Star to take note of Karlsson’s defensive prowess. John Klingberg was quite complimentary of his countryman, too:
“He’s unbelievable,” said Klingberg. “He’s got so much poise and puck skills, and he’s so underrated in his defensive game, too. No one talks about that. There’s so much focus on his offensive numbers all the time, but he’s a great defensive player, as well. I think he’s one of the leaders in the league in blocked shots, too.”
5) Like Klingberg, Karlsson also went through some ‘growing pains’ while adjusting to life on the blue line. Because the Senators defenseman played his junior hockey for Frolunda in Klingberg’s home town, the Stars defender got to see those struggles firsthand.
“Seeing him when I was growing up, he made a lot of mistakes in juniors, a lot of turnovers, a lot of weird decisions,” said Klingberg. “I think that sometimes happens to me, too. It’s going to happen to players like us. You just have to know your role and know what time in the game you can try stuff.”
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