In a game against Dallas last season, Kesler demonstrates his breakneck play style.
Photo Credit: TONY GUTIERREZ / AP
After getting off to a rocky start to the season – the Canucks’ first six games were marked by iffy goaltending, unforced puck moving errors, permissive defensive coverage and a complete inability to hang on to two goal leads – the Vancouver Canucks machine has been purring of late, recording six straight wins over a variety of Northwest Division opponents and also the Chicago Blackhawks. Tonight the Canucks will try to extend their streak to seven games against a surprisingly competitive Dallas Stars club.
A key subplot is that Friday night’s contest could mark Jaromir Jagr’s final game in Vancouver. I’m not sure he’ll mind come to think of it. While Jagr’s a sure bet to make the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, his most notable hockey moment in Vancouver is probably that time he got crushed by Ovechkin during the Olympics.
Another key subplot? The return of Aaron Rome. Boy oh boy do I miss his steady low-event stylings on the… Yeah I can’t even finish that sentence and the 2013 version of Keith Ballard is a big upgrade over what Rome would’ve brought in a bottom-pairing role. Still, Rome is massively underappreciated by Canucks fans. He was (and is) a legitimately useful and versatile player!
Read on past the jump.
Puckdrop: 7 PM PST
Radio: The Team
Television: Sportsnet Pacific
The big news for the Canucks, of course, is that tonight marks the first game of the post-Manny Malhotra era which is really sad. Also some plug named Kesler (or Kessler if you’re in Ontario) is returning to lineup after taking nearly nine months to recover from a pair of offseason surgeries on the same side of his body. So that’s neat.
Alain Vigneault has pledged to limit Ryan Kelser’s minutes, but it’s tough to see how that’s even possible considering how heavily he’s usually leaned on, on special teams. Expect to see Kesler back on the top power-play unit (and thank goodness, the Canucks have looked woeful with the man-advantage so far this season), and back killing penalties in earnest.
Also expect Maxim Lapierre to be buried in the defensive zone. I’m really not sure if he’ll ever got an offensive zone start again, at least until Ryan Kesler is back to being his usual two-way, wrecking ball self or until Mike Gillis acquires another steady defensive centreman for the bottom-half of the roster.
Oh also Cory Schneider starts. With Malhotra’s sad situation and Kesler’s return, it seems like the never ending goaltending controversy has somehow slipped onto the back-burner this week. I really didn’t see that one coming.
On what to expect from the Dallas side whom the Canucks face tonight, I decided I’d tap Jeff Angus for a few spare thoughts seeing as how he has a huge man crush on Jamie Benn, writes for "Defending Big D" the excellent Dallas Stars SBN blog and follows the team closely. Here’s what Jeff has to say about the Stars lineup:
Up front, the Stars have a balanced attack spread across two lines. Jamie Benn has quietly developed into one of the best players in the league, and he and Jaromir Jagr have been playing good together. Brenden Morrow is the third member of that top line, replacing the injured Ray Whitney. Morrow is playing his best hockey in years after struggling with injury issues.
The Stars brought in Derek Roy to replace Mike Ribeiro, and Roy has been a great fit on line two. Loui Eriksson, usually Mr. Consistent, has been exactly the opposite of that in 2013. Eriksson really needs to get his offensive game going for the Stars to have a chance at the postseason.
Keep an eye on Cody Eakin, who was brought over from Washington. Eakin plays a north-south game and works his tail off. A poor man’s Zach Parise is an apt comparison. Dallas has a lot of speed on their bottom two lines.
The defense has been a huge disappointment in Dallas, but not for the reasons you may think. The young guys have been pretty solid, especially Surrey native Brenden Dillon, who skates on the top pairing with Stephane Robidas. Dillon was an undrafted WHL free agent who plays solid two-way game. Jamie Oleksiak was recently returned to the AHL, but he was pretty solid in limited action.
Alex Goligoski has been terrible this season for Dallas – he is trying to do way too much offensively instead of letting his game do the work (think of Kevin Bieksa during his struggles a few years ago).
Oh, and how can I forget about Aaron Rome? The former Canuck is playing more minutes on Dallas than he ever would have in Vancouver. He’s looked exactly how you would expect him to look – solid defensive play, safe outlet plays (glass and out), and the odd blunder or mistake.
There have been some great goaltending performances this season (Pekka Rinne and Craig Anderson, to name two), but for my money Kari Lehtonen has been the best goalie in the NHL in 2013. He’s the sole reason behind many of Dallas’s wins (or extra time losses). He could steal a point or two for the Stars tonight, who will want to tighten things up after an embarrassing performance in Calgary a few nights ago.
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