The Dallas Stars return home for another one-game homestand against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night. Vancouver currently sits four points behind Dallas for the final playoff spot in the West. The Stars enter tonight’s game only three points behind Nashville (1st Wild Card) and four back of St. Louis (3rd in Central).
Stars Depth Forcing Tough Decisions
The Stars are entering unknown territory when it comes to the depth within their lineup. With the addition of Vladislav Namestnikov and Scott Wedgewood, along with the excellent play throughout the lineup, Dallas feels like a deep team all of the sudden. Don’t get me wrong, this is an excellent problem to have. But, it also forces head coach Rick Bowness to make some tough decisions on a nightly basis.
“It was tough to pull Petey, it’s tough to pull Marian, are we going to pull a veteran at some point? Yeah, we are,” Bowness said. “We’ve got healthy bodies and it’s not going to be the same guys that we are going to pull out of the lineup. I am telling them, you haven’t played your way out of the lineup, but we’ve got 14 healthy forwards and we are going to try to use them all.”
Along with those tough decisions, come tough conversations with players that want to play. As Bowness said, they will be forced to scratch youngsters and veterans, so being honest with them and having mutual trust between the coaches and players will be key to getting the most out of this team. The depth will also be a nice boost when the Stars play a heavy schedule during the final month of the season.
“We’ve got 16 games coming up just in the month of April and there’s been a ton of games in the last stretch,” Bowness said. “It’s important, even on the defense, that we use as many bodies as we can. It’s tough, but you have an honest conversation with them and they understand.”
Oettinger is the Man
Jake Oettinger will be back in the net tonight after a rare night off in Carolina. Oettinger is 3-1-0 in his last four starts. While it was a rare break on Thursday, the 23-year-old took it all in and enjoyed watching his new teammate steal two points for his team against the Hurricanes.
“I think just overtime, in general, was awesome,” Oettinger said about watching Wedgewood in Carolina. “I am just a hockey fan too so I was standing up going nuts. He was unbelievable. He is not the biggest guy but his compete level and he is just such a good puck stopper. He reminds me a lot of Juuse Saros.”
Oettinger has been the man for Dallas since the end of January when Braden Holtby began to struggle with his current lower-body injury. Now, with a healthy backup in Wedgewood, the youngster will try to stay sharp and use the competition to only get better.
“Yeah it’s tough obviously, Oettinger said about the balance between taking breaks and wanting to play. “I played a ton at BU and obviously since then, I haven’t really had a number one role. It was really nice getting back into that but that’s something you have to earn and you have to play well to hold that role. We’re going to push each other and it’s going to be really competitive and both of us want to be in the net, so I think it’s going to be a great thing down the stretch.”
Canucks Scouting Report
Vancouver has made a bit of a late-season surge. After being all but written out of the playoffs, they have points in seven of their last 10 and have inched their way back closer to that playoff line.
“They are playing really well, Bowness said. “They are a confident group right now. They’ve got a great goaltender, they are scoring more, and they have tightened it up a little bit defensively in terms of their structure. They are more committed to coming back with certain structure in their own zone and when you do that, you break the puck out easier and they are more effective on the rush.”
Vancouver is led by J.T. Miller who has had a phenomenal 2021-22 campaign. The 29-year-old forward has tallied 27 goals and 78 points in just 64 games and has five points over his last three games. In net, Thatcher Demko has been a rock all season long. He has played the third-most games among goalies this season (53) and has maintained a steady .916 save percentage.
- Thomas Harley will be back in the lineup tonight–Andrej Sekera will come out
- Jacob Peterson will be back in the lineup tonight–Marian Studenic will come out
- Jake Oettinger will start in goal
- Miro Heiskanen skated this morning but will not play tonight. He will travel with the team on the upcoming road trip and is getting closer to a return
He Said It
“Personally for me, I like playing on the road more than playing at home, Oettinger said. “It’s kind of fun to be the villain a little bit and have everyone against you. Obviously, our home crowd has been unbelievable, but to go on the road and try to steal one is one of my favorite things about hockey. At the beginning of the year, they weren’t really putting me in tough positions and now, that’s what I want. For them to be able to trust me to go in anywhere and be able to play well is obviously great for me. I’ve just got to keep doing that and getting those starts.”
Sam Nestler is a credentialed Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the Stars, the NHL, and college hockey. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!