Stars look to close gap with Predators

DALLAS — There are still 46 games remaining, but Dallas Stars coach Ken Hitchcock can’t help but check the standings on a daily basis.

After each game he is refreshing an app in his phone to see how the other teams have done, and is constantly looking at where the rest of the league stands.

“I do it too damn much,” Hitchcock said. “There are still so many games left, but you can’t help but look at it.”

And each time Hitchcock looks at the standings, his team is looking up to the Nashville Predators.

The two teams will meet at American Airlines Center at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

While the Stars currently sit in the first wild card spot with 41 points, Nashville leads the Central Division with 46 points.

“They’re just a good hockey team,” Hitchcock said. “They do everything so well, and you really have to be ready for everything with them.”

Nashville is actually in the midst of a rare rough patch this season. The Predators have lost back-to-back games, including a 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday where starting goalie Pekka Rinne was pulled in the first period.

“It’s something we take a lot of emphasis on, to have a good start, and we’ve been talking about it, but somehow we just can’t get it done,” Romas Josi said. “We take a couple penalties early, and it doesn’t help. They scored two on the power play and obviously two goals 5-on-5. We’ve been talking about it, and it’s something we’ve got to fix.”

Kevin Fiala scored for the Predators (21-9-4), who have lost consecutive games for the first time since Nov. 1.

“I guess to put it as honest as possible, we’re not playing hard enough,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said after the loss.

The Stars are coming off one of their most complete games of the season that saw Hitchcock win his 800th career game. Dallas beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-0 on Thursday, Ben Bishop posted a shutout and Tyler Seguin broke an eight-game scoring drought.

In short, things are looking up for the Stars.

“We just had a couple frustrating losses in overtime the last two games, so it’s nice to keep pushing there and finally break through and get the win tonight in regulation,” Bishop said after the game. “We had some guys step up, and it’s always fun to win at home, especially when there are some other fans in the stands. It’s nice.”

Bishop will be back in goal on Saturday, while the Stars are expected to use the same lineup. Hitchcock said he’s been very happy with his defense core and it’s made life a bit easier while waiting for Marc Methot to return from injury.

On Thursday Hitchcock said that Methot likely won’t play until at least New Year’s Eve, meaning the current six defensemen have more time to develop chemistry.

The Predators have a similar predicament and are expected to get back one of their top defenseman, Ryan Ellis, sometime next week as well.