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Struggling Senators try to get it in gear against Stars

by Brian Hunter
SENATORS (37-29-5) at STARS (30-27-13)

Last 10: Ottawa 2-7-1; Dallas 3-6-1

Season series:
This is the only meeting of the 2009-10 season between these teams. Ottawa claimed a 5-4 overtime win on home ice in the most recent matchup on Dec. 20, 2008.

Big story:
The Senators have been one of the harder teams to figure out this season. They spent a significant portion of the season looking like a borderline postseason contender, then rode a franchise-record 11-game winning streak to the top of the Northeast Division. Since the Olympics they've struggled once again, but still appear a virtual lock to get back to the playoffs after a one-year drought.

"It's harder to stay positive (now), but that's a big role for the guys who have been around for a long time," veteran defenseman Chris Phillips said after the team practiced in Dallas on Friday. "What's done is done … if you hang your heads, it just gets tougher and tougher.

"You've got to just look forward, put a smile on your face and get ready to play the next day. Stick with it, stick together and try to turn things around."

Team Scope:

Senators: A 4-1 win in Edmonton on March 9 remains the only time Ottawa has tasted victory since returning from the two-week Olympic break. Scoring has been a problem -- the Senators have one goal or fewer in six of eight games. They finally broke through on Thursday in Atlanta, but still got doubled up 6-3 by the Thrashers.

Looking for optimism? The Senators were on a five-game losing streak in January when they shut out the Rangers to begin their 11-game run.

"We've dug ourselves into this hole and we've been in this situation before," coach Cory Clouston said. "Because we've been in this situation before, we should at least be able to draw some strength from that."

Time has all but run out on Dallas, which has also hit the skids in March. Unlike with the Senators, though, the Stars came out of the Olympics needing to make up ground in the Western Conference, and you're not going to accomplish that winning two of nine. After routing the Sharks 8-2 on Tuesday to create a flicker of hope, the Stars were edged 3-2 by the Flyers on home ice Thursday.

"That's almost like playoff hockey, the type of game it was tonight," defenseman Mark Fistric said. "It was a close match, and just the little errors like turnovers and not getting pucks deep are what cost us."

Who's hot: Steve Ott scored both goals in the Stars' loss to the Flyers. He has three in his last two games. Brad Richards has a goal and four assists during a three-game points streak.

Injury report: Ottawa may be without forward Milan Michalek, who's battling a leg injury. … Dallas forward Mike Modano is out following an appendectomy, while forward Tom Wandell underwent knee surgery and is out for the season.

Stat pack:
Goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who has started consecutive games for the Stars and played well, has a 4-5-0 record and 2.96 goals-against average in nine career starts against the Senators. … Both teams have had issues keeping the puck out of their own net of late. Ottawa has allowed 15 goals in its last three games, while Dallas has averaged four goals against per game this month.

Puck drop:
The Senators have fallen into a tie for fifth in the East with the Flyers, just one point ahead of the Canadiens for seventh. They have 11 games remaining to establish some momentum heading into the playoffs.

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