The Ottawa Senators showed why they are currently the team to beat in the East.
The Senators dinked and dunked their way to a grinding 4-2 win over the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on Friday night, sending Dallas to its second consecutive loss to start its four-game homestand.
The normally high-powered Senators offense took the night off, but their tenacious forecheck and relentless pursuit of loose pucks stymied the Stars, who actually ended up outshooting the top team in the Eastern Conference. Ottawa won for the eighth time on the road, and has lost just twice in regulation away from home, a league-low.
Niklas Hagman and Mike Ribeiro scored for the Stars, who are now 2-4 following their season-long six game winning streak. Goalie Mike Smith, making his first start in four games, was able to turn aside 16 shots.
Antoine Vermette and Chris Kelly had a goal and assist each, and Christoph Schubert and Mike Fisher also scored for the Senators, who won for the second straight time. Ray Emery made 23 saves, including 13 in the final period, for his second win since Nov. 1.
Down by a pair of goals, the Stars gave themselves a chance when Ribeiro banked in a shot from the right side of the net that went off Kelly at the goal line with 1:49 to go that cut Ottawa's lead to 3-2. Ribeiro's team-leading 12th of the year put Dallas in a position to possibly send the game into overtime.
But Kelly made up for it when he scored an empty-net goal with 30 seconds left in regulation.
"That was a pretty good team there that works hard as well," Ribeiro said. "We got down 3-1 and it was just a little too late for us in the third."
"You want to measure yourself against the best and we competed hard," said captain Brenden Morrow, who assisted on both goals. "It could've gone either way."
Dallas was able to contain Ottawa's high-scoring trio of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley -- the triumvirate combined for just two assists -- but was unable to solve Ottawa's defensive play. Many of the Stars shots were taken from the perimeter, and when they did get a premier scoring chance, Emery was there to foil it.
"They capitalized on their opportunities and we didn't," Morrow said. "We were getting shots, but the effort to create the second and third shots wasn't there. It was a competitive game against a good team. You want to be disciplined, especially against a team like this, and we just didn't get the bounces. That's hockey and it's just the way it goes some nights."
Up by a goal entering the third period, Ottawa increased its lead to 3-1 on Fisher's power-play goal at 6:29. After Stu Barnes earned a double-minor when he high-sticked Ottawa forward Shean Donovan and drew blood, Fisher let go a wrist shot from the left faceoff dot that eluded Smith.
The goal came after the Stars were able to kill off the final two minutes of Hagman's five-minute major penalty for boarding incurred in the final 3:38 of the second period.
But coach Dave Tippett was upset afterwards when no penalty was called after Jussi Jokinen was high-sticked and went down at center ice late in the game. A penalty would have given the Stars a 6-on-4 advantage with Smith pulled for the extra attacker.
"I find it amazing they saw the high stick on Barnes but not on Jussi," he said. "Those are frustrating. They stop the game to call one and then they miss a blatant one with 40 seconds left."
Schubert got things going for the Senators with his fifth of the year just 5:18 into the game. Schubert skated with the puck inside the blueline and cut towards the middle of the ice before curl-turning towards the right boards and back around the inside edge of the right circle. When he got to the top of the circle, Schubert let an innocent-looking wrist shot that handcuffed Smith.
The shot was Ottawa's first of the game.
"There were a few guys in front of me but you have to find the puck no matter what," Smith said.
Dallas cashed-in on a two-man advantage just over two minutes later when Hagman picked up his 11th of the year. After Senators defenseman Wade Redden was whistled for hooking Jokinen while Chris Neil was already in the penalty box for a double-minor, the Stars were handed the two-man opportunity for a full two-minutes. They needed only 20 seconds of it to tie the game, as Hagman shoveled in a rebound off Sergei Zubov's slap shot from the left point that was deflected by Morrow.
The Stars held the territorial edge -- and even had a 10-2 advantage in shots at one point -- until Ottawa regained its one-goal lead when Vermette scored his fifth on a flashy individual effort with 3:31 left in the first. Vermette accepted a pass from Neil just outside the Stars blueline and went around defenseman Stephane Robidas with a nifty move before sliding the puck under Smith.
"I think all-around they are a good team and they got some bounces," Smith said. "I needed to make some saves early and I didn't do that tonight. Once you get behind, you chase the game and it's unfortunate to start like that. A couple of more saves on my part would have made it a different game."
The Senators had the edge in play in the scoreless second period, but only had six shots to show for it. Smith kept Ottawa at bay with a couple of sparkling saves, including a crafty poke check on Vermette's breakaway attempt with eight minutes left.
Dallas, meanwhile, was able to muster only one on net in the middle frame, and that came with just under four minutes to go.
The sluggish second was capped when Hagman received his major as well as a game misconduct late. Hagman shoved Schubert into the boards along the right corner after Schubert appeared to lunge forward on his own as he battled for the puck.
The Stars killed off most of the infraction to end the second, and the remainder of it to start the third. In all, Ottawa only took one shot on Smith during the elongated power play.
"We have to let these things go and play better as a team," Ribeiro said. "It's tough and it hurts to drop two straight at home, but tomorrow is another day and we'll get back at it then."
Added Tippett: "You hate losing, that's the bottom line. We battled hard and we couldn't get a break, from the calls to bounces around the net. We were on our heels and we couldn't seem to get any momentum."
The Stars will continue their four-game homestand on Monday when they host the Edmonton Oilers at American Airlines Center (7:30, my27)
The Oilers have been hot as of late, winning six of their last nine before Friday's loss to the St. Louis Blues. Edmonton struggled early on, going just 5-10-1 to start the season.
It will be the first of four meetings between the two teams this season. The Stars will head north to Edmonton to play the second game on Dec. 18.
-- Of Hagman's 11 goals, nine have come at home.
-- Right wing Antti Miettinen missed his third straight game, and seventh of eight, because of a nagging groin injury.
-- Morrow has four points in his last four games.
-- Dallas had beaten Ottawa by the same 5-3 score the last two times the two teams have played in Texas. The most recent came on Jan. 28, 2004.
-- Dallas is now 5-3 against the Eastern Conference, and 2-1 against the Northeast Division.
-- Dallas was 1-for-6 on the power play, while the Senators were 1-for-5.
-- Zubov had a team-high four shots.
Wrist shot -