Ryan Kesler and the Canucks are in Big D tonight to take on Cody Eakin and the Dallas Stars. Dallas got the best of Vancouver last Friday night, defeating the Canucks 4-3 at Rogers Arena. It marked the first time that the Canucks had lost a game at home after leading through 40 minutes since October 2009.
Cristopher Nilstorp is getting the start for Dallas tonight, as Kari Lehtonen remains sidelined with a groin injury. Cory Schneider will get the call for the Canucks – his second consecutive start after stealing Vancouver a point in Chicago on Tuesday evening.
Read on for a preview of tonight’s action.
Puckdrop: 5:30PM PST
Radio: The TEAM
Television: Sportsnet Pacific
As mentioned above, the Canucks will be facing Nilstorp, a goaltender they have never seen before. Nilstorp has only two NHL games of experience, but he has been very effective this season down the road in Austin for Dallas’ AHL affiliate.
Dallas will also be without veteran defenseman Trevor Daley, who is day-to-day with a neck injury. Daley has been one of the top blueliners for the Stars for the past few years, and their already-thin defensive group takes another hit. Outside of the Brenden Dillon-Stephane Robidas pairing, the Stars have been very shaky on the back end. They have leaned heavily on Kari Lehtonen to bail them out in 2013 but he won’t be there for them to lean on tonight.
Up front, the Stars don’t have the speed or skill to match up with the Canucks, but they have a number of big, strong forwards who are tough to knock off the puck. Case in point the Dillon game-winning goal from last Friday – Brenden Morrow and Jaromir Jagr chased down a loose puck, Jagr protected it while tossing the 220 pound Alex Edler to the side, and eventually got the puck back to Jamie Benn, who slid it across the zone to Dillon for the goal.
Dallas is also getting terrific play from the red-headed menace pictured above – Cody Eakin. Eakin has points in three straight games, and he is supplying energy and sound two-way play from the third line. Dallas did their homework on him, having scouted him during his days in the WHL. They acquired him last summer from Washington in the Mike Ribeiro trade, and Eakin figures to be a key part of their rebuild.
Benn and Jagr, in particular, are both very difficult to knock off the puck. The Canucks will likely match up Hamhuis and Bieksa with them, as the team has reuinted the duo. It will be interesting to see how the other two pairings for Vancouver fare – Alex Edler moves back to the left side, where he is much more comfortable. Chris Tanev gets a promotion to the second pairing, while Jason Garrison moves down to play with Keith Ballard. Ballard has been very solid this season in a depth role, but he has struggled in the past on the right side (where he will be playing tonight).
The Sedin twins are back with Alex Burrows, and the trio has really started to find their groove over the past four games. There have been a few "Sedin-like" shifts from the unit against St. Louis and Chicago. Daniel and Henrik each have six points over their last three contests, too. Jannik Hansen will miss tonight’s game because of the one game suspension that Brendan Shanahan handed down yesterday. The Canucks are a much faster team than Dallas, but the loss of Hansen hurts in that regard.
Zack Kassian had been demoted to the fourth line before the Hansen suspension, but he will play with Kesler and Higgins on the second scoring unit tonight. The big winger has only one point in his last seven games, and he looks to have hit a bit of a wall (similar to last season). I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sent down to the AHL in the near future if he can’t turn things around. Vancouver is a very deep team up front, and Mike Gillis has shown in the past that he wants his players to spend as much time as possible in the AHL (Chris Tanev last season, and Jordan Schroeder over the past few years).
The key to this game (and most Canuck games) will be Kesler. the Sedin unit will get keyed on by the Stars, which should leave Kesler to feast on the secondary defensive units. Kesler has looked good since returning – his positioning hasn’t been perfect and his timing as been a bit off, but those things should be expected considering he went nearly a calendar year in between playing.
|Fenwick Close %||49.5%||53.7%|