Gameday Preview: Vancouver Canucks @ Dallas Stars (7:30pm CST)

Ronald Martinez

With Jamie Oleksiak sent back to Cedar Park it's up to the likes Cameron Gaunce to fill large minutes of a damaged blue line.

In a four-game stretch against Central Division teams of similar quality the Dallas Stars managed only a split, and now find themselves in need of making up ground against the West's elite in Vancouver, Los Angeles, St. Louis and San Jose over the next two weeks.

The Stars did manage to avenge a 6-2 loss to Colorado Monday with a 3-2 come from behind nail-biter Tuesday in front of the home crowd thanks to Colton Sceviour's break-away game-winner in the third, but all the same have won just 6 of 14 games at home this season,

The good news is that their home power play did connect Tuesday, and that Ray Whitney shook off cobwebs of his own in the win.

The bad news is that the Vancouver Canucks and their relentlessly talented puck possession game is it town to challenge a very green defense featuring Brenden Dillon, Kevin Connauton, Jordie Benn and Cameron Gaunce.

Vancouver unleashed the fury on Dallas in their last meeting in November, peppering Kari Lehtonen's net with 43 shots thanks to 13 on the power play (owed in part to two more offensive zone penalties), but Ruff's bunch escaped with the victory just the same.

The Canucks lost the special teams battle on Tuesday night and then the goaltening battle as well in the shootout to the Minnesota Wild to break what had been a seven-game win streak.

Puck drop is just after 7:35 on Fox Sports Southwest proper.

The Stars:

Dallas scratched Jamie Oleksiak Tuesday night against Colorado, even with Aaron Rome newly injured and Trevor Daley and Stephane Robidas out long term. That they then sent him back to the Texas Stars under those circumstances speaks volumes about Jim Nill's opinion- Inescapably, that he's just not quite ready yet.

So they signed long-time organization member Maxime Fortunus to an NHL contract, and as Fortunus passed through waivers, unavailable to Willie Desjardins last night, it's expected he'll be in Dallas for this one, though Cameron Gaunce will likely remain in the lineup as the sixth member of the blue line.

As such, expect a lineup that looks like this:

Benn-Seguin-Nichushkin

Well, I don't what to say after that, so much. You'd expect the Whitney-Eakin-Chiasson trio to continue but as the game wore on Tuesday Ruff returned to the Roussel-Eakin-Garbutt experiment, and Peverley-Sceviour-Cole was a popular trio, leaving Horcoff with Whitney and Chiasson.

How any of that played internally is a mystery due to the lack of a practice on Wednesday, so we'll pay extra attention to those tweets from morning skate to divine how the staff may interpret things here tonight.

It's worth mentioning that Nichushkin started with Benn and Seguin in the Stars' last against Vancouver, but was watching as the tense defensive situations increased in frequency as the game wore on. How he does against one of these high possession teams as the season wears on is of great interest to all observers.

Kari Lehtonen should be in net, though Dan Ellis has four of the Stars' home wins this season.

From Stars PR"Stars defenseman SERGEI GONCHAR earned an assist on Tuesday against Colorado, and now has six helpers over his current three-game assist streak. The 39-year-old leads Stars blueliners with 12 points (0-12=12) this season, while his 12 assists are tied for third among all Dallas skaters. Eight of GONCHAR'S 12 helpers this season have come in his last seven games."

The Canucks:

A month ago would have been a better time to play the Vancouver Canucks.

November saw the Sedins and company lose 10 in a 14 game stretch (4-6-4), five times in seven games failing to score more than a single goal. That group came largely against better Western Conference foes- Kings, Ducks, Sharks, Blackhawks (and even a loss to the Stars).

Since then their schedule has softened considerably and wins over Ottawa, Carolina, Nashville, Edmonton and Phoenix have them moving in the right direction. Their loss to Minnesota broke up a huge seven game win-streak in which they allowed a total of just eight goals.

They allow the 8th fewest shots against in the league to go along with the 6th fewest goals against at 2.28. They're 10-5-3 at home and 10-5-3 on the road, so location seems to matter not.

Their power play comtinues to be mediocre but the penalty kill is strong. Before allowing Minnesota a power play goal Tuesday night they had killed 34 of their last 36 shorthanded challenges- Over 94% in a one-month stretch.

The Vancouver Sun says the Canucks are better poised to succeed at "playoff hockey" this year, giving several reasons why, including this bit on their new head coach and what style the Stars can expect:

I need to mention what John Tortorella has brought to this team. As one can see, this team is slowly becoming harder to play against. The puck pressure in all zones, although it gives up odd man chances from time to time, when all players are supporting and filling the gaps - creates turnovers.

This in turn has allowed the Canucks to out-shoot their opponents in most games. Once the scoring kicked in, you can see that the result was positive in the win column. His mantra of adding " bite" to this team means, that even though the Canucks may not be a physical presence like the Kings, Blues, Sharks and others, they have shown they will not back down. [Vancouver Sun]

Their lineup could look something like this...

Sedin-Sedin-Hansen
Higgins-Kesler-Santorelli
Booth-Richardson-Kassian
Welsh-Dalpe-Weise

Hamhuis-Tanev
Stanton-Bieksa
Weber-Garrison

Luongo should start in net. He's 16-8-6 with a 2.18 GAA and .922 save percentage.

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