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Scenes from morning skate: Kuzmenko sits again as Canucks look to shoot down Stars

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Photo credit:© Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
5 months ago
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The Vancouver Canucks (22-9-2) have a chance to put an exclamation mark on a successful road trip when they face the Dallas Stars (18-8-4) at American Airlines Center. The Canucks are 2-0-1 through the first three stops of this road run and 6-0-1 in their last seven games overall. The Stars, meanwhile, are 3-0-1 in their last four outings so it’s a battle of two of the top teams in the Western Conference and two clubs that are at the top of their games.
The Canucks have won seven straight against the Stars. They have also won their last three trips to Big D and five of their last six.

What we saw

Despite some intrigue during the morning skate, Rick Tocchet will go with the same lineup of skaters that beat Nashville 5-2 on Tuesday. That means Andrei Kuzmenko sits for a second straight game. This will be the Russian winger’s fourth healthy scratch of the season. The Canucks are opting to play Phil Di Giuseppe ahead of Kuzmenko. Di Giuseppe has just one goal in his last 23 games and it was into an empty net in Montreal on November 12th. He last beat an NHL goalie on October 27th against St. Louis. However, despite his offensive struggles PDG still has more shots on goal (28) than Kuzmenko (25) since the start of November.
A rested Thatcher Demko returns to the net tonight after backing-up Casey DeSmith on Tuesday against the Predators. Demko has won his last four starts and five of his last six. Among his league-best 16 victories this season was a 27-save shutout in a 2-0 win over the Stars at Rogers Arena on November 4th. In his career, Demko is 7-0 lifetime against Dallas with a 1.86 GAA and a .939 save percentage.
Elias Pettersson has scored in back to back games – surprisingly that’s the first time it has happened this season. He also has 17 shots on goal and 23 attempts in the first three games of this road trip.
Nils Höglander celebrated his 23rd birthday yesterday. On Tuesday, he reached double-digits in goals for the third time in his four NHL seasons. Höglander has seven of his 10 goals in the past 17 games.
The Canucks are 7-1-1 since the addition of Nikita Zadorov on November 30th. At even strength, the club has outscored opponents 6-2 with Zadorov on the ice. One of the goals was in his second game as a Canuck against New Jersey. Otherwise, he’s been on for just one even-strength goal against over the past seven games and none in the last four. After a revolving door on defence for much of the season, tonight will mark the 10th straight game the Canucks have used the same six blueliners.
The Stars are back in action after a 4-3 overtime win against Seattle on Monday. Matt Duchene scored twice and assisted on Thomas Harley’s game winner 2:16 into OT. Dallas sits tied with Colorado one point back of Winnipeg in the race for top spot in the Central Division, however the Stars have the best points percentage of those three teams.
With workhorse Jake Oettinger on the shelf with a lower body injury, Scott Wedgewood has stepped up and started the past three Stars games and will get the nod again tonight. Wedgewood is 7-1-2 on the season with a 3.21 GAA and a .906 save percentage.
Ageless Joe Pavelski (39) — the second oldest player in the NHL this season behind only Mark Giordano –  leads Dallas with 13 goals and 29 points. Four other Stars players are sitting with 10 goals on the season (Jason Robertson, Matt Duchene, Roope Hintz and Mason Marchment). The Stars boast a balanced attack with Pavelski at 29 points, Robertson 28, Duchene 27 and Hintz with 26. They also have four other players with 20 or more points.
Sam Steel has scored 36 goals in his NHL career. Eight of those have come in eight games against the Canucks including his lone NHL hat trick on March 26, 2019.
The Stars sit third in the NHL in penalty killing at 86.7%. They killed off all five Vancouver power plays in the first meeting of the season.
Tonight’s referees: Kendrick Nicholson & Mitch Dunning

What we heard

Rick Tocchet on Canucks testing themselves against the Stars: “To me, it’s a building block. We’re trying to build a foundation and this is another step in building that foundation. This is a good hockey team we’re playing. It’s an exciting game. We should have a lot of fun with this game. Almost like a playoff atmosphere.”

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