7:00 p.m. PST, Rogers Arena, Vancouver, B.C.
TV: Sportsnet Pacific, Radio: SN 650
The Pacific Division has been full of surprises to start the season. Most people would have picked the Anaheim Ducks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks to make it back to the postseason.
Right now, none of them are even top three in the Division.
The Los Angeles Kings aren’t looking like they’re past their Cup window early in the season. The Vegas Golden Knights have surprised everyone so far with an 8-1-0 start.
Those two surprises have slightly overshadowed the Vancouver Canucks surprising early start, even if their performance isn’t lost on this market.
The Canucks had an incredible five-game road trip where they were arguably the better team in 14 of 15 periods. They came back home with their foot firmly on the gas pedal, as the spanked the Washington Capitals 6-2 at Rogers Arena.
They continue their home stand against the Dallas Stars, who are on their fourth game of a five game road trip. The Canucks will be without Brock Boeser, who has a bruised foot after blocking a shot against the Capitals.
Hearing out of Utica that the #Canucks have called up Anton Rodin.— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) October 30, 2017
The underwhelming Sam Gagner should get a look on the top line with Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi. Jayson Megna was also expected to slot into the lineup for Boeser, but that’s no guarantee after Anton Rodin was called up by the Canucks.
If there’s one thing evident about the Stars early on, it’s that they’ve really shored up their defensive game compared to the same team that was on the ice last season.
The Stars have a respectable 6-5-0 record to start the season, but they’ve been better of late with five wins in their last seven games, including a 2-1 victory over the Flames on Friday night.
They had two power play goals to propel them to victory on Friday night, adding to their impressive special teams play. At 32.4%, the Stars currently have the best power play in the NHL. On the penalty kill, they have the second-best kill behind the Kings at 92.1%.
Their numbers also look good at even-strength. After bleeding scoring chances last year, Ken Hitchcock has this defence allowing the second-fewest scoring chances per game. Their top players, like Jaime Benn, Tyler Seguin and John Klingberg, have helped the Stars get the fourth-most scoring chances per game.
With all of these gaudy numbers, it’s a surprise that the Stars are barely over .500. Their weakness is their forward depth, where there’s a drop-off after the big names. Goaltending is also still an issue, with neither Ben Bishop or Kari Lehtonen playing well early.
Bishop will get the start tonight, and he hasn’t played particularly well against the Canucks in his career. He has four wins but only a .899 save percentage in seven starts versus the Canucks.
The Home Team
Despite the Stars middling record, it will be a tough test for the Canucks to continue their winning streak on Monday night. If the Stars had better goaltending, all of the numbers suggest that they should be better than 6-5-0.
The Canucks are also missing their top scorer in Boeser, while no one is excited about Megna drawing back into the lineup. Most fans would surely like to see Rodin get a chance, but considering he was just called up this morning, Megna will likely draw in, especially since he’s trusted by Travis Green on the penalty kill.
While Jake Virtanen playing with the twins was a good story, it will be even more important for that line to step up and provide some offence against the Stars tonight. Gagner is getting flak for only registering three assists in his first ten games, but Henrik Sedin has those same totals. The Sedins have been ineffective on the power play. If that continues, they need to find a way to contribute at even-strength if they don’t want to see their ice time diminish further.
One of the quietly impressive aspects of this Canucks team of late has been their defensive play. Ben Hutton and Chris Tanev have looked good as a pairing since the pairings were shifted after Troy Stecher’s injury. Hutton looks less erratic and Tanev is as steady as ever.
Derrick Pouliot and Alex Biega is a scary third pairing on paper, mostly because those two are still AHL calibre players until they prove otherwise. However, they’ve looked good in sheltered minutes, with both defenders possessing glowing Corsi numbers.
The Canucks are looking for their first regulation win against the Stars for the first time since the Alain Vigneault era, when they beat the Stars 4-3 on February 21st, 2013. They’ve lost 13 of their last 14 games against Dallas.
Game Day Battle Hymn
After ripping through the first three episodes of the new Stranger Things season last night, I can’t seem to get the 80s songs out of my head. That means y’all are getting an 80s pump up track ahead of the game tonight.
I haven’t heard any Iron Maiden yet on Stranger Things, but I hope my wish is granted before Season Two wraps up. Let’s just say that with Boeser out of the line-up, the Canucks are going to see someone else to ‘flash the blade’ tonight.