Game #63 Preview: Stars Wars

Thomas Drance
February 26 2012 09:54AM


Hopefully Luongo won't require the help of the cross bar in today's game!

The Canucks and the Stars haven't met in a game since February 19th, 2011. In an odd quirk of schedule, the two sides will now play four games (at a rate of a game every 10 days) over the balance of the regular season.

Imagine if Dallas slips into the postseason, and meets the Canucks in the first round (which is what would occur if the season ended today). If that scenario does indeed unfold, these teams could face each other 8 to 11 times over the next three months... With that in mind, let's all take a moment to be thankful that Marty Turco has moved on!

Read on post the jump for more detailed preview, your three keys and underlying numbers for both teams.

Broadcast Info:

Game time: 12:00 PM PST

Radio: Team 1040 TV: RSN-P

Setup

This afternoon, Vancouverite eyes will closely track the play of Steve Ott - even if the gritty, tough-minutes winger is unlikely to be moved at the deadline. While the Canucks are widely rumoured to be interested in acquiring Ott, Dallas is likely to hold out for a top-6 forward (and not one named Mason Raymond) so, sadly, this deal may not be feasible...

While he may not be headed to Vancouver over ht next 48 hours, you'll get to see Ott play today! Look for Ott to matchup against either the Sedins to Kesler and generally be a pain in the ass to play against. Ott is a useful tough-minutes forward, who Cam Charron described on Twitter as "Malhotra's evil twin." He'll have to be on his game defensively tonight - as will the rest of the Stars - what with Jamie Benn out.

Sadly, local dude and newly minted All Star forward Jamie Benn has suffered a laceration in his leg and will miss this game (he should return later this week). Benn is a BCHL alum and an extremely entertaining player to watch, so that's pretty disappointing for Canucks fans and supporters of British Columbian hockey.

Roberto Luongo seems likely to get the start this afternoon for the Canucks. No word on whether or not Sami Salo draws back into the lineup, though, based on the horrendous play of Alberts and Edler against the Devils - one certainly hopes that'll be the case. 

The Stars are a physical team, and even without Jamie Benn have some players who can burn you. This the the Canucks sixth game in the last eight days, and being an afternoon start on top of that - we should expect them to be tired. Dallas is a pretty solid possession team, and they can make life-hard on a good team. That said, with their anemic depth down the middle - they don't matchup particularly well against the Canucks. This is good news, because, I suspect we're not going to see anything approaching the Canucks "A" game this afternoon.

Numbers Game

>This table includes what we believe to be the best "predictive" team metrics in hockey. Beyond the self-explanatory stats like record, powerplay percentage and goal differential, the table includes: 5-on-5 Goals For and Against Rate, which measures a team's even-strength goal differential on a per game basis. Today the table is somewhat modified because timeontheice's "mplayershots" scripts have been glitchy over the past week, so we've dropped shot% and shot% tied from the table. However, Fenwick% close is a great indicator of possession, and shows us which team is better at controlling play. We'll also include Fenwick% in a tied game state, which, has been proven to be the gold standard for measuring "real" team quality. We'll also include PDO to qualify a team's record - and try to isolate whether or not a particular opponent (or the Canucks) are actually as good as their record indicates, or whether or not they've just been lucky (or unlucky).

  Stars Canucks
Record 32-26-4 40-16-6
Venue Record (Home/Away) 17-12-2 22-10-2
Last 10 5-3-2 8-1-1
PP% 14.4% 21.6%
PK% 81.7% 86.7%
Goal Differential -7 +50
5-on-5 Goals F/A 1.04 1.22
Fenwick Close % 49.15% 51.2%
Fenwick Tied % 49.8% 50.6%
PDO 100.3 102

 Three Keys

  1. Start strong. Based on their recent schedule, the Canucks almost certainly don't have "a full 60 minutes" worth of hockey in them this afternoon. If they can come out firing and notch a couple, it'll be easier for Vigneault to roll four lines and distribute the team's minutes more evenly. 
  2. Use the force. By which, I mean the force of jerk-puck. Dallas is a "hitty" team, with several loose cannons on their roster - so it's possible they'll try to push the Canucks around. The Canucks are good at instigating that type of team with their jerk-puck psychological war-fare techniques, and forcing them into taking undisciplined penalties. Vancouver's club has a massive special teams advantage over the Stars that is worth exploiting, so if I'm the Canucks, I'm looking to be especially obnoxious this afternoon. 
  3. Roll four lines. This road trip is the Canucks last extended one of the season, but the schedule and travel has been grueling, and today's afternoon start exacerbates all of that. For the long-term health of the club, and to maximize their "wind" this afternoon, the Canucks need to parcel out their minutes in a more equitable fashion than usual. It would be great to see Hodgson exceed 13 minutes, and I'd very much like to see Malhotra and Lapierre play over 10 minutes at even-strength as well.

 Game Day Links

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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