Preview: Stars Prepare for ‘Tank Wars’ in Vancouver

The Dallas Stars and the Vancouver Canucks will jockey for positioning in the Western Conference tonight. Unfortunately, neither team is where they want to be.

The Canucks sit just one point up on the Stars in the standings with 65 points on the season. Both teams have unceremoniously fallen out of contention since they were both within striking distance of a playoff spot last month. On Feb. 1, both teams were three points out of a playoff spot with games in hand. Now, the Canucks are 12 points out of the final Wild Card spot.

Many expected the Canucks to finish near the bottom of the standings, but having the Stars occupy the basement is a surprise. They finished first in the Western Conference last season with an up-tempo offensive roster that scored the most goals in the NHL. At even-strength, they scored the second-most goals in the NHL. This season, they’re right in the middle of the pack, 15th overall.

Dallas’ disappointing season took a turn for the worst on Tuesday, when they were shellacked 7-1 by the Edmonton Oilers. Lindy Ruff referred to it as the worst game he’s coached as a Dallas Star. The Canucks didn’t put forth a much better effort against the Boston Bruins, giving up four third period goals in a 6-3 loss. Willie Desjardins also wasn’t too happy with his team’s effort.

Since the beginning of February, the Canucks and Stars are two of the worst teams in the league. Dallas sits 29th overall since that date with a 6-12-0 record, while Vancouver is 28th with a 5-11-3 record.

Lindy Ruff called out his team after an embarrassing loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday. (Annie Devine/ The Hockey Writers)

It sets up a ‘Tank Wars’ battle in Vancouver on Thursday night. The Stars will give their young defence another opportunity to grow, while the Canucks should start playing the kids more, based on the comments from Jim Benning.

With the Arizona Coyotes posting the league’s 14th best record since Feb. 1 (10-8-2), the tank battle could really heat up down the stretch if the Canucks and Stars continue to flounder.

Dallas Stars at Vancouver Canucks

Thursday, March 16, Rogers Arena, 7:00 p.m.

Broadcast Channels: SNP, FS-SW

2016-17 Season Series: Nov. 13 – Stars 4 – Canucks 5 (OT), Nov. 25 – Canucks 1 – Stars 2

Dallas Stars: 27-32-10, 64 Points, 12th in Western Conference

Hot Players: Tyler Seguin (13 points last 12 GP), Jaime Benn (12 points last 12 GP)

Key Injuries: Mattias Janmark, Antoine Roussel

Projected Lines


Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Jason Spezza

Remi Elie – Cody Eakin – Ales Hemsky

Devin Shore – Radek Faksa – Patrick Sharp

Curtis McKenzie – Adam Cracknell – Brett Ritchie


Esa Lindell – John Klingberg

Dan Hamhuis – Stephen Johns

Patrick Nemeth – Jaime Oleksiak

Starting Goaltender

Kari Lehtonen


Vancouver Canucks: 28-32-9, 65 Points, 11th in Western Conference

Hot Players: Markus Granlund (6 points last 8 GP)

Key Injuries: Chris Tanev, Brendan Gaunce, Nikolay Goldobin, Loui Eriksson, Jacob Markstrom, Jack Skille, Anton Rodin, Erik Gudbranson, Derek Dorsett

Projected Lines


Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Markus Granlund

Sven Baertschi – Bo Horvat – Reid Boucher

Joseph Cramarossa – Brandon Sutter – Drew Shore

Joseph LaBate – Michael Chaput – Jayson Megna


Alex Edler – Troy Stecher

Luca Sbisa – Nikita Tryamkin

Ben Hutton – Alex Biega

Starting Goaltender

Ryan Miller

Game Notes

[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]1)[/miptheme_dropcap] Dallas gives up the most goals overall in the NHL, but that stat is a bit misleading. The Stars only give up the 13th most goals at even-strength, showing on the surface that their goaltending and defence is at least middling, if not slightly below average. However, they have given up the most goals in the league while shorthanded. Kari Lehtonen has the worst save percentage among goaltenders who have played at least 50 minutes of shorthanded hockey, according to Corsica.

[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]2)[/miptheme_dropcap] Special teams play is sinking both the Canucks and the Stars. Since Feb. 1, only the Canucks and Oilers have a worse penalty kill than Dallas. Vancouver’s ineptitude on the penalty kill is disappointing considering it was a strength in Willie Desjardins’ first year as head coach.

Bo Horvat
Despite being the Canucks’ best forward, Horvat has not been strong on the penalty kill. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Despite his strong season, Bo Horvat has not been good on the penalty kill. Among 300+ players who have played at least 50 minutes shorthanded, Horvat ranks fifth-worst with 116.7 shot attempts against per 60 minutes. He’s also second-worst in shorthanded scoring chances against per 60, and ranks eighth-worst in shorthanded goals against per 60. Thankfully for Horvat, he will face two players who are below him in terms of shorthanded goals against per 60: Jaime Benn and Cody Eakin.

[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]3)[/miptheme_dropcap] Lehtonen and Antti Niemi take all the heat in Dallas for their poor goaltending, but some of the blame has to go to their defence. Even though they have a middle-of-the-pack shot attempt differential, the Stars give up the fourth-most scoring chances in the league. Their goaltending at even-strength hasn’t been horrid, but it hasn’t been good enough to bail them out either.

[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]4)[/miptheme_dropcap] Despite their dreadful seasons, both Vancouver and Dallas can be happy about the progress of their rookie defenders. Esa Lindell is second on the Stars in minutes played, and looks comfortable in an elevated role. Stephen Johns has the second-best scoring chance differential at even-strength among all Stars skaters, along with chipping in four goals.

Troy Stecher finds himself in a similar role to Lindell, playing big minutes as a rookie while learning to round out his game. He currently leads all Canucks defencemen in points. Nikita Tryamkin has improved his game by leaps and bounds this year, and looks poised to take another step forward next season.

[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]5)[/miptheme_dropcap]  Could Ryan Miller be facing his new team tonight? Everyone seems to think Miller will choose Los Angeles or Vancouver as his home in the offseason. However, the Stars have the most pressing need for a goaltender, and should be willing to spend money on an upgrade. The Stars will save money by buying-out one of their current goaltenders. Forwards such as Patrick Sharp, Ales Hemsky, and Jiri Hudler also free up nearly $12 million in cap space if they walk as free agents. The bottom line? Dallas has the money to make a play on Miller. Dallas isn’t any further than Vancouver geographically, although the change in time zones could affect Miller’s decision.