The Dallas Stars and the Vancouver Canucks have a lot in common these days.
They're both leading their divisions. They've both experienced great success this season. They both lost to the Calgary Flames this weekend, and they're both trying to figure out just exactly how the heck that happened.
The Stars can pull within two points of the conference leading Canucks with a regulation victory here tonight, or risk drifting back toward the pack that's charging hard to claim the Stars spot. Phoenix and Anaheim have provided relentless pursuit in January and 8th place is just eight points back. As good as Dallas has been, the breathing room is practically non-existent. A win tonight would be the definition of a "statement game."
Vancouver, unfortunately, is looking for a statement game of their own and home ice is a good place to do it. They've dropped five of their last six games but boast a 15-3-5 record at Rogers Arena this year. The conference's best team is even the best at losing, having picked up OTL points in their last three losing efforts.
Dallas will see a healthier lineup return tonight, Kari Lehtonen back in net, and a slightly banged up Vancouver blue line as they attempt to get revenge on a 4-1 loss on New Years Even in Dallas.
Stay up late with us tonight and visit the GDT as this one gets started at 7:00pm local time, which I think is like 2:00am Central...
Dallas used a plethora of lineups in their last game while trying to make up the for the absence of Loui Erikssin (flu) and Brian Sutherby while at the same time protecting Francis Wathier and Aaron Gagnon from volatile situations as they visited from the Dallas Stars. The result made for some interesting shift tracking and the players needed to be extra alert on the bench to avoid confusion.
Tonight things will return back to normal with Loui back with Richards and Neal, which allows Benn to play full time with Ott and Burish and the fourth line will probably include Wandell, Sutherby and Barch. Francis Wathier is still with the team for insurance and Aaron Gagnon was sent back to Texas on Saturday in an effort to make sure he doesn't pass the "10 games or 30 days" barrier and need to be sent through waivers again.
Kari Lehtonen will be back in net, of course, after Andrew Raycroft started the back to back in Calgary on Friday.
Stars PR says "Jamie Benn is riding a career-high six game point streak (four goals, five assists) and has multiple point games in three of his last six games."
You'll recall the young Star scored the first goal of his NHL career in Vancouver last season.
Mark Fistric, Jeff Woywitka and Matt Niskanen all appear to be options for Monday, so we'll see who gets to sit there.
NHL.com has a scary note about the Canucks entering play tonight...
Six Canucks forwards are suffering from personal scoring droughts: Mikael Samuelsson (14 games), Mason Raymond (11), Manny Malhotra (12), Jannik Hansen (10), Jeff Tambellini (13) and Raffi Torres (12).
That's a lot of guys who are "due", plus the Sedins and all the usual Vancouver favorites.
They've scored only 11 goals in their last six games and it's been an "all or nothing" kind of thing. They've been shutout twice but have put up 3 and 4 goals at a time in that stretch as well. So do the Stars get the all, or the nothing?
We've seen time and again this season that when the Stars struggle on faceoffs, their offensive production suffers accordingly. The Canucks are #1 in the league with a gaudy 55.8% on the dot, so keep an eye on that if you're wondering why things are heading south at some point.
It's not surprising that the Canucks have the edge in every major statistical category coming into this one including PP%, PK%, G/G, GA/G, S/G, SA/G, FAC%, and so on and so on...
The only question is: Will the Canucks continue their funk, or will the Stars drop their second in a row and start a funk of their own?