The Vancouver Canucks are first up for the Dallas Stars as Glen Gulutzan's bunch clings desperately to fading playoff hopes with just six games to play and the team in 10th place. The Stars saw a five-game win streak snapped in Chicago Monday and need badly to get in the win column tonight.
The good news for the Dallas Stars tonight is that Kari Lehtonen is scheduled to return after missing nearly four games with a groin injury.
The not-so-good news is the way he's returned from these injuries before - Last year, in December against Columbus at home on a Thursday. It was a loss. Earlier this year he also returned at home, on a Thursday - a 5-1 loss to the Oilers. This Thursday night at home the Stars must do more in front of him to buck that trend.
Vancouver enters having lost on the second night of a back-to-back in St. Louis by a score of 2-1 via shootout. They've won 11 of their last 15 over all, and defeated the Stars here at the AAC by a score of 4-3 in come from behind fashion.
From Stars PR: "Stars forward RAY WHITNEY notched two assists against the Blackhawks in Monday's contest, extending his current point streak to five games (3G-6A-9 PTS). WHITNEY, who was out for the first two games against Vancouver this year, has four points (1G-3A) in his last two contests against the Canucks, and leads all Stars with 42 points (11G-31A) in 48 career meetings against Vancouver."
The puck will drop on this one just after 7:30pm on Fox Sports Southwest proper - So if you're not heading to the arena join Ralph and Razor, as well as us here in the GDT as we savor what's left of a shortened season.
Kari Lehtonen may be back in the Dallas net, but the forward lineup likely won't resemble much with which Stars fans have been accustomed either pre-trade deadline or after as Alex Chiasson takes a seat with a shoulder injury and Vern Fiddler's trio figures to continue their steps into the spot light.
At practice Wednesday Loui Eriksson joined Jamie Benn and Ray Whitney, seemingly dissolving the trio that has been (through the five-game win streak and the Chicago game) Eriksson-Eakin-Fraser. This puts an extremely top-heavy spin on a lineup that's been depleted of proven NHL-caliber skill since the departures of Michael Ryder, Brenden Morrow, Derek Roy and Jaromir Jagr.
Lines from Wednesday's practice were the following...
Dallas will have to rely heavily on the Benn trio to check any one of three stellar Vancouver forward lines (Sedin, Kesler, Roy - Take your pick) while also producing chances offensively and drawing enough penalties to offset what's sure to be a heavy load on the PK for Fiddler and Nystrom, who need to play second-line ES minutes.
It's a tall task to be sure, any way you look at it.
Trevor Daley missed yesterday's practice with an upper-body injury and is questionable for this one, though Glen Gulutzan was hopeful he would be ready. Jordie Benn could slide into the lineup otherwise and Aaron Rome could move up to play with Stephane Robidas in Daley's possible absence.
Vancouver is 11-3-1 in their last 15 games coming into this one, as dominant as ever. Or are they? In their last three they've experienced a bit of a downturn. From the Vancouver Sun after the Canucks' victory over Nashville Monday...
The Nashville Predators, minus most of their top forwards and headed to a golf course near you in two weeks, overwhelmed the Canucks in the second period here the way the last-in-conference Colorado Avalanche collapsed the Canucks in the third period in Denver.
The difference Monday is the Canucks' wobbled but didn't topple, blowing a two-goal lead against the Predators before recovering their equilibrium and cognitive skills to muster a 5-2 win that nudged Vancouver closer to its fifth straight Northwest Division title and a home-ice start to the National Hockey League playoffs in two weeks.
They followed that up with a shootout loss in St. Louis on Tuesday night, back-to-back, allowing the Blues 36 shots on goal and 77 shot opportunities in all, though Schneider was up to the task of equalizing them.
The only thing the Canucks aren't good at is that shootout that cost them extra point against the Blues. They've now lost a league-high six skills competitions. To exploit it, of course, one must first last through 65 minutes of actual hockey, which the Stars would would be very lucky indeed to do tonight against such a formidable roster and scheme.
Dallas will get a look at Derek Roy for the first time since the trade that sent him Northwest for a 2nd round pick and defensive prospect Kevin Connauton. Roy has played center for Vancovuer but has also seen time along side Ryan Kesler on a line that will certainly exhibit ample puck possession skills, giving them a one-two punch that's a matchup nightmare.
Possible line combinations...