The Stars occupied the top spot in the Western Conference again for a time after surviving the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday. Lindy Ruff knows how valuable that is as October nears a close, but also recognizes the absurdity that is the Western Conference:
"We've got a great record," Ruff told media Wednesday, "but we are two points out of ninth. That means we are going to have to be even better because once we get inside our division and conference, the games are going to get even tougher."
A grim reality, perhaps, but reality nontheless. Dallas has 14 of the 100 or so that will be requisite to make the post-season in this division, and he wants them to stay hungry. (So say we all.)
Tonight's challenge comes from a team that did something no one else has been able to do this year - defeat the Montreal Canadiens.
Willie Desjardins' squad took the 9-0-0 Canadiens down and now bring that confidence and swagger with them to Dallas, where the Stars will try to avoid their third straight catastrophic start in a row.
Tune into Fox Sports Southwest this evening at about 7:38pm for puck drop, or listen on Spooorts Radio 1310 (96.7 FM) The Ticket.
Jason Demers (suspension) is expected to draw back in, and the expectation in the media currently is that Jamie Oleksiak will come back out. That will return the defensive pairings to their previous state on what was a very successful Eastern road swing.
The guessing game of who will be in the Stars net continues, though largely following positive results so far this season. Niemi was in net for the three-goal collapse Tuesday but his coach did not blame him.
"The first goal went off a shin pad," Ruff told media. "There was really absolutely nothing he could do. It was going right, hit a shin pad and went left. We just hung him out to dry on the other two."
So he could get the nod, or Kari Lehtonen might make more sense if they want to alternate - surely Niemi would relish a shot at the Sharks on Saturday.
Travis Moen, Patrick Eaves and Curtis McKenzie remain out with their various ailments.
Various players gave statements to this effect Tuesday night:
"There were a few things said by some key people, some coaches, and that's what we expect," Patrick Sharp told media. "It was nothing that was unexpected. We knew it was coming. We weren't happy as a group with how we performed the first period and knew we could be a lot better."
So the main thrust of this one entering play may be to produce a better opening ten minutes and avoid playing catchup.
Vancouver has been very productive in the early going in collecting points in seven of their first nine games.
They've also lost five of those nine games, for what it's worth - and in the NHL it's worth 50% if you make it past regulation, which Vancouver has done three times already, surrendering the extra point to Detroit, Edmonton, and Calgary.
They've been stingy, allowing two goals or fewer in five games so far (earning points in all five). On offense they've had two breakout performances against Calgary and Montreal with five goals each night, and mixed results otherwise.
Vancouver boasts the league's best faceoff percentage at 54.9%, a top-five penalty kill at 88.0%, and most importantly - a top-five goals against per game at an even two. Impressive stats ordinarily indicative of future success. They've also won just three of their first nine games in regulation.
For some reason the Stars get them tonight fresh, and the upstart Coyotes get them tomorrow on the second night of a back-to-back.
Their lineup, or something like it, including noted Star-killer Radim Vrbata and frequent minor irritant Dorestt:
Thing 1-Thing 2-Vrbata
According to the Morning News- "Dan Hamhuis (lower body), Jacob Markstrom (lower body), Brandon Prust (ankle)" will miss tonight's game.
From Stars PR:
The Dallas Stars take on the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night in the third contest of a four-game homestand at American Airlines Center. Dallas enters Thursday's contest boasting a seven-game winning streak over the Canucks, having tallied wins in eight of their last nine games against them. In 2014-15, the Stars swept the season series against the Canucks for the second consecutive season, marking the first time this has occurred since the team moved to Dallas. The Stars have won four straight games at home against Vancouver, outscoring the Canucks 21-6 during that span. In their most recent game at American Airlines Center, Dallas defeated Vancouver, 6-3, with multi-point games from captain Jamie Benn (1-1=2) and center Tyler Seguin (1-1=2).
OH CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN
Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn tallied three points (0-3=3) against Anaheim on Tuesday night and now leads the NHL with 15 points (8-7=15). Benn also leads the League in goals (8) and his five multi-point outings this season are the most of any player. He now has points in two-straight contests (2-3=5) and has recorded points in eight of his nine games this season. The native of Victoria, B.C. has points in nine of his last 10 games against Vancouver (6-7=13) and has tallied 16 points (8-8=16) in 18 career contests against them. In the most recent game against the Canucks on March 28, 2015 at Rogers Arena, Benn recored one goal (1-0=1) with a +2 plus/minus rating.