The team that could seemingly do no wrong in January after starting that month 7-0-1 has run into a wall in February. Dallas has lost seven of eight this month and nine of their last eleven overall. They start the night tied for sixth place, and ninth place, with 68 points. They could finish the evening anywhere from 5th to 10th.
This, mercifully, is the fourth and final meeting between these teams this season. Vancouver has taken the first three games in dominating fashion by a combined score of 15-3. Dallas has scored once in each contest.
Injuries are the name of the game for both teams, though it's a tale of two cities when you look a little closer. The Stars are hurt at forward with Brad Richards, Jamie Benn, Adam Burish, Krys Barch and Ray Sawada all out. The Canucks have lost nearly all of their blue line that started the season, but it hasn't hurt them yet.
They maintain a firm grip on first place and are among league leaders in every major statistical category. Vancouver fans are saying things like "hang in there" but with first place assured and a 7-3-0 record in their last 10, it's hard to muster up any sympathy. The Western Conference is theirs to lose.
Still the Stars will have to find a way to take advantage of the situation or just hope the Canucks make mistakes as they did in Nashville on Thursday night.
Who will start in net for Dallas...?
Marc Crawford had still not named his starting net-minder for Saturday after practice on Friday. Kari Lehtonen is due for a night off but Andrew Raycroft's last two outings have been sub par compared to his stellar performance earlier in the year. Lehtonen has taken all three losses against the Canucks this year, though largely through no fault of his own.
Dallas held a "goaltenders" practice on Friday and the reps were said to have been good for both men. The players had a light practice on Thursday and nearly nothing on Friday, so the coaching staff will be hoping they have a bit more jump in their game than their last trip to VAN: A 7-1 loss on 1/24.
No returns from injury means Dallas will roll with the same lineup as the last two games. No Brad Richards, no Nick Grossman and no Jamie Benn.
In their 7 losses this month they've scored a total of 11 goals. (1.57 G/G). They will have to find a way to manufacture some offense today if they're to keep their heads above water in the West.
The good news is that Brad Richards, Jamie Benn and Nick Grossman are all expected to be realistic 'options' to return on Tuesday against he Devils at home.
Check out the NHL.com preview, where they say "The Dallas Morning News is reporting defenseman Nicklas Grossman (hip) could play Saturday", then check out the DMN blog entitled "No Grossman for Saturday; Goalie still undecided" and then you'll remember why you came to Defending Big D.
We keep pointing to their injured blue line as an opportunity for the Stars, but the difficulties they're presented so far this season remain regardless.
They're still the best faceoff team in the league, and they're still the best power play in the league. They still have a healthy compliment of forwards, including all the guys who have done such incredible damage to the Dallas PK this year, so their injured are immaterial to the Stars experience against them this season and what they're game plan should be.
Still, the fan blogs, as seen here with the big red cross, try to pretend like those injuries are more significant than Dallas'. We doubt it, but we'll see.
In fact, they have a bit of good news as Dan Hamguis could return to their lineup tomorrow night. [The White Towel]
Vancouver has won five of their last six at home, scoring an average of FOUR goals per game in that stretch.
Roberto Luongo is expected to make the start for VAN.
Check out Nucks Misconduct for some reason, and we hope to see you here for some late night GDT action starting at 9:00pm CST.