Originally written on Stars of Big D  |  Last updated 2/26/12

Vancouver Canucks (40-16-6, 86 pts) @ Dallas Stars (32-26-4, 68 pts)

2:00 PM CT, February 26, 2012

American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas

Stars:

If Dallas wants to prove that it belongs in the playoffs, the game today provides an opportunity to make a statement. The game today is the first of four this season and could be a probable matchup for the first round of the playoffs if Dallas makes it (either the Canucks or Detroit).

Dallas has struggled mightly with the top teams in the West this season (Dallas has oddly done well against the top teams in the East). The Stars are 1-8-1 against Detroit, San Jose and St. Louis this season and will face an equally difficult game against Vancouver (who could be the best of the group).

The good thing for Dallas is that they enter today as hot as they have been in the past two months. Dallas has won three in a row, been scoring goals and the goaltending has been fantastic. It's all the more incredible because Dallas has been doing this without Jamie Benn (and to a lesser extent, Brenden Morrow).

The key to the game today will be to limit the effectiveness of the Sedin twins, especially Henrik. Dallas has to clog up the passing lanes or Henrik will tear the defense apart. He can find those little lanes that lead to easy tap-in goals. It would probably be better to turn the Sedins into shooters instead of passers.

Key number two in this game will be to stay out of the penalty box. The Stars get destroyed on the PK by puck movement and it's tough to find a better puck moving PP unit than what the Canucks throw out. If Dallas ends up on the PK five or more times in this game, it will be a mark in the loss column.

On the offensive end, Dallas has to crowd Luongo and obscure his vision. He'll give up rebounds and has a propensity of melting down. Get a couple of early goals by him and he'll capitulate. Put bodies around him, give him that feeling of claustrophobia and force him to be perfect if he wants to keep the puck out of the net.

Kari Lehtonen gets the start today. He's struggled in his career against the Canucks. He is 1-5-0 with a 4.16 GAA and a .866 save percentage.

Dallas will be without Jamie Benn (leg laceration), Brenden Morrow (back/neck/shoulder) and Jake Dowell (broken finger). Philip Larsen took a puck to the helmet last game and had to leave with a cut, but it looks like he will be good to go for this game.

Notes and thoughts:

  • Dallas is 17-12-2 as home this season. It has alternated wins and losses in the last eight home games. If it continues to follow that pattern, today would be a loss.
  • Dallas has been scoring a good amount of goals lately (surprising without Jamie Benn). It has outscored the opponent 10-2 in the last three games.
  • Dallas only has four PP opportunities in the last four games. It is 0 of 4 in those games.
  • Dallas is 11 of 13 on the PK in the last four games (84.6%).
  • Michael Ryder has at least a point in eight of the last nine games (5 goals, 4 assists).
  • Mike Ribeiro has at least a point in seven of the last eight games (2 goals, 7 assists).
  • Loui Eriksson has at least a point in seven of the last nine games (3 goals, 6 assists).

more after the jump

 

Canucks:

Dallas has somehow gone five months into the season and not faced the Canucks once. Stars fans will get very familiar with Vancouver in the coming weeks as the game this afternoon marks the first of four meetings this season.

It's a tough matchup today for the Stars as the Canucks are (points-wise) the best team in the West. The rankings for Vancouver show just how good it has been this season. It ranks 3rd in goals per game, 6th in goals against, 2nd on the PP and 5th on the PK. Just about top five rankings in all of the major categories equals bad news for Dallas today.

Vancouver comes into this game on fire, having gone 8-1-1 in its last 10 games and has only one regulation loss in its last 16 games (12-1-3). In their last game, the Canucks personally ended the 23 home game winning streak of the Detroit Red Wings (though the Wings were without Datsyuk) so to say confidence is high would be an understatement. 

It's not too difficult to understand the success of the Canucks. It all falls on the shoulders of the Sedin twins. Both Sedins are in the top-7 in the NHL for points. Henrik leads the team in points (66) and has an amazing 53 assists (tops in the NHL). Daniel leads the team in goals (28) and is second in points (63). It's impossible to really stop the pair (especially with the Stars defense) so it will be essential to just slow them down. Pay too much attention to those two and guys like Ryan Kessler (18 goals) and Alex Burrows (22 goals) will burn Dallas.

I fully expect Roberto Luongo to make the start today. He's had great success in his career against the Stars with a 13-4-2 record, a 2.00 GAA and a .935 save percentage. He's quite prone to meltdowns though so Dallas needs to get in his head and crowd the net. Luongo has allowed 2+ goals in three straight games.

On the injury front, the Canucks will be without defenseman Keith Ballard (concussion) and forwards Andrew Ebbett (collarbone) and Aaron Volpatti (shoulder).

Notes and thoughts:

  • Vancouver is 20-10-2 on the road this season. It is 9-2-1 in the last 12 road games.
  • The game today is the fifth of a six games on the road for Vancouver.
  • Vancouver is second best in the league in goal differential (+50). The are only behind Boston (+61).
  • Henrik (1 goal, 7 assists) and Daniel (4 goals, 4 assists) both have eight points in the last five games.
  • Vancouver has 104 goals on the road this year, the best in the NHL. Second place Philadelphia has scored 99 road goals. It also ranks first in road PPG with 29, two ahead of the Flyers.
  • Vancouver absolutely dominated the Stars last season, winning all four games and outscoring Dallas 20-5.
  • One thing to look for today, the penalty situation. Vancouver leads the league in road penalties taken with 141, seven more penalties than the Flyers. The Stars have seen very few penalties in their recent games so I would hope to see more PP chances for Dallas today. The PK has been great though for the Canucks (37 of 40 in its last 13 games, 92.5%).
  • Vancouver has outshot the opponent in five of the last six games. Expect that to happen again today.
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