Stars look to cap homestand by defeating Senators

DALLAS — This current Dallas Stars homestand has featured a little bit of everything for the home team.

Dallas (37-23-5, 79 points) started the stanza with a 5-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 24. Then, after shutting out the Calgary Flames 2-0 on Tuesday, the Stars, who are 23-10-2 at home, took the Tampa Bay Lightning to overtime on Thursday before falling 5-4 in the extra frame.

On Saturday afternoon against St. Louis, Dallas needed overtime to edge the Blues 3-2.

Dallas concludes the run of five straight at American Airlines Center Monday night against the Ottawa Senators, a team the Stars are seeing for the first time this season.

First-year Stars coach Ken Hitchcock wants to see captain Jamie Benn, who netted the overtime game-winner against the Blues on Saturday to snap a run of 11 consecutive games without a tally, deliver more of the same.

“This is four of the last five games that he’s played really, really well. He’s dialed in,” Hitchcock said of Benn after Saturday’s win. “He’s playing hard, he’s playing physical and getting in the scoring area. He’s really high up in the league in rush-attack chances. Sometimes you get frustrated when you have all these rush-attack chances and you don’t score. You can get down on yourself. He’s gone into the greasy parts of scoring and is getting rewarded.”

Besides Benn, Dallas’ other big offensive cog, perennial All-Star center Tyler Seguin, has also been firing on all cylinders. Seguin had two assists against St. Louis, giving him 60 points for a fifth consecutive season and for the sixth time in his career.

The other star of Saturday’s matinee was starting goaltender Ben Bishop, who stopped 35 of 37 shots from the Blues to earn his 26th victory of the season.

Hitchcock said after practice Sunday that Bishop will get the nod between the pipes again Monday, and that backup Kari Lehtonen would start the tail end of the back-to-back Tuesday night in Nashville.

Benn echoed Hitchcock in saying there’s no way to overstate how much of a difference Bishop, the Stars’ most marquee addition of the offseason, has made this season.

“Yeah, it’s huge,” Benn said after Saturday’s win. “We’ve seen some star play out of our goaltenders throughout the year. He’s there to cover butts when we make mistakes.”

Dallas is 5-4-1 in its past 10 games, but the Stars are an impressive 14-5-5 against the Eastern Conference, including a 7-2-2 record against the Atlantic Division.

The other development to come out of practice Sunday for Dallas is that the Stars are a bit banged up.

Hitchcock said Gemel Smith, a frequent healthy scratch over the past few weeks, will return to the lineup. However, Hitchcock did not specify who will come out, saying he would disclose that after morning skate on Monday.

Hitchcock also is pleased with Stars’ defense of late. They are not only giving up fewer quality scoring chances, but fewer goals than earlier in the season.

“We don’t give up chances by being outworked, we have the puck. If you want to be a really good checking team you have to manage the puck,” Hitchcock said after Saturday’s win. “We turn it over too many times in the neutral zone for my liking. We’re in position and making the play but we’re not executing. That’s just repetition and practice.”

Hitchcock would like to see Dallas’ defensive game improve reading pressure.

“Where we’re nervous is that we’re reading pressure that wasn’t there. We’re trying to tip pucks into zones when they’ve already pulled back,” Hitchcock said. “They’re not pressing up on us. It’s difficult because we go from a game where the press-up was unbelievable to no press-up. It’s hard to adjust.”

Ottawa (22-32-10, 54 points) had Sunday off after finishing a back-to-back on Saturday night with a 2-1 loss at the Arizona Coyotes.

The Senators are 3-6-1 in their past 10 games and 9-12-4 against the Western Conference, including a 3-7-1 mark against the Central Division.

Besides Ottawa’s 8-19-5 road record, which ties it with Arizona for fewest road wins in the NHL, the Senators also currently sport a minus-51 goal differential, third-worst in the league.

Still, Senators coach Guy Boucher felt his team still had a chance to sweep the back-to-back after winning against the Vegas Golden Knights the night before. That is, until a disastrous third period in Glendale against the Coyotes.

“I don’t like the way we handled our third period. It wasn’t good enough, it wasn’t smart enough, it wasn’t hard enough,” Boucher said after Saturday’s loss in Arizona. “Yeah, you are going to lack some energy in the third period on a back-to-back and when you don’t have as much energy, you got to be smarter, and we were not.”

These teams will meet again in Ottawa on March 16 to conclude the season series.