|Erik Karlsson and the Senators finished November on a 5-1-1 roll, a streak of success they'd like to continue as a new month starts with tonight's road test in Dallas against the Stars (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
It has been the kind of rollercoaster ride one might expect out of a youthful team.
But as the calendar flips into December, the Ottawa Senators find themselves rolling on a high slope — and it's a position they'd like keep enjoying, starting with tonight's matchup against the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center (8:30 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200).
The first two months of the 2011-12 season have certainly been a study in contrasts for the Senators (12-10-2). After opening the season on a 1-5-0 skid, Ottawa ran off six straight wins to close out October. It was more of the same in November — an 0-4-1 start, followed by a 5-1-1 finish in a month that saw the Senators play eight of 12 games away from the friendly confines of Scotiabank Place.
"I don't know if it's been easy," Senators head coach Paul MacLean said of his team's path through November. "But the team played real well and responded to a little bit of adversity along the way. We've been on a more of an extended road trip (lately0 and they've played well.
"They've come to the rink every day and they've been diligent about what they need to do in the games. The games have been exciting, but it's been a learning process for us. A lot of times, our youth shows, but for the most part, we're getting good results."
Added blueliner Erik Karlsson, who leads all National Hockey League defencemen with 22 points: "We're further into the season and I think everybody's more comfortable and feeling good about ourselves."
Tonight's opponent is coming off a mirror image of a November. The Stars posted a 6-6-1 record during the month, but that included a five-game losing streak. Ask Karlsson what kind of game might be in store tonight, and he grins and suggests "my style, probably."
"We know we only play them once a year and it's going to be a tough game," he said following the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today. "(The Stars) have had some success and they have a pretty good team right now. It might be an open game with lots of good players."
As a former Detroit Red Wings assistant, MacLean has a little more familiarity with the Stars, but even he admits "they're a different team, they have a different coach (Glen Gulutzan) and some of their players are a litte bit different. But we have enough video on them to realize how they play, and they're playing real hard and fast and they're forechecking hard. We've got to make sure we're prepared for that tonight."
Around the boards
Defenceman Filip Kuba, who suffered a lower body injury during Tuesday's 6-4 win in Winnipeg, didn't take the pre-game skate and will be held out tonight. That means Brian Lee draws back into the lineup on the Ottawa blue line. "Right now, he's day to day," MacLean said of Kuba. "(He's feeling) a little discomfort, so we're going to keep him out today and we're going to reassess it tomorrow" ... Forward Nikita Filatov, who took a skate to the face in Winnipeg, is good to go for tonight. "He was fine today skating, so he's in," said MacLean ... Forward Chris Neil (sprained ankle) remains out ... Defenceman Matt Carkner (knee) has been sent to the Binghamton Senators (AHL) on a conditioning stint to prepare for his return to action with the big club. Carkner has yet to suit up for the Senators this season ... Craig Anderson makes the start in goal for Ottawa, with Andrew Raycroft the expected Dallas stopper ... The Senators close out their three-game road trip Saturday in Washington against the Capitals (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200), then return home to face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200). After a road-heavy November, Ottawa has nine home dates in December.