Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Stars' home rink not a friendly place for Canucks

Dickson Liong

Six doesn't seem to be a lucky number for the Vancouver Canucks, at least not when they play at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
Last season, Vancouver had a two-game road trip on which it visited the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars on March 4 and 6, respectively.
The Canucks were shut out by the Coyotes, 1-0, and things didn't get any better in Dallas.
In fact, they got worse, as the Canucks trailed the Stars 4-0 after 20 minutes in a game they would lose, 6-1. That brought back memories of a Jan. 15 game in which Vancouver visited the Anaheim Ducks. The Canucks gave up two first-period goals in that one, en route to a 9-1 loss.
“It was a tough one,” Canucks' defenceman Kevin Bieksa said after that March 6 game in Dallas. “Our effort and our execution wasn't good enough. We were flat out outplayed in the first 30 minutes of the game and the second-best team on the ice. It's very disappointing right now. This road trip is very disappointing, and if this isn't rock bottom, I don't know what is.”
“With what was at stake . . . was this even worse than the 9-1 game in Anaheim?” a reporter asked. 
“I don't know what's worse,” Bieksa replied. “It was a humiliating game to be a part of, just to be outplayed. I don't care what the shots were, but in the first 30 minutes of the game when the game was on the line, we were just flat out outplayed by a team that executed better than us. Here we are again.”
At the time, the Canucks were still battling for a playoff spot. They came into that game with a 28-26-10 record, but had been 1-8-1 in their previous 10 games.
Vancouver needed a victory if it wanted a chance of playing in the post-season. Vancouver went on to finish 36-35-11 for 83 points, good for only No. 12 in the Western Conference.
But, really, that is history.
With the 2014-15 season underway, the Canucks got off to a 3-0-0 start, and looked to be heading in more of a positive direction.
Let's not forget, though, that those three victories were against the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, two teams that remain in the rebuilding stage, and are considered to be two of the NHL’s weaker teams.
When Vancouver played host to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, it was the beginning of a stretch in which the Canucks will face teams that should be more competitive. The Canucks lost 4-2 as Lightning captain Steven Stamkos scored twice and added an assist.
Vancouver didn't seem to have any answer for him.
The talent and skill on teams that the Canucks were going to face next wasn't going to do down, either. Vancouver was scheduled to to head out on a three-game road trip beginning in Dallas.
With the Stars led by forwards Jason Spezza, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, the Canucks knew they needed all four lines to produce if they were to obtain a victory.
So, Canucks' head coach Willie Desjardins decided to move forward Linden Vey from the third-line centre spot to the fourth line. Desjardins replaced Vey with forward Brad Richardson. As well, Desjardins moved Shawn Matthias, who had been the fourth-line centre, to left wing on the third line.
“I don't think we've had quite what we want out of (the fourth line),” Desjardins said. “But I think it's a lot of different things, it's not necessarily the players. I think it's a mixture. I think it's the ice time, lots of different things.
“At the same time, during the season, they've gone against the high-end line, too. I haven't just played them against the other teams' fourth lines.  They've done a good job defensively, maybe we just haven't got enough offence.”
Despite the changes, the Canucks re-lived the horrors when visiting the Stars, as they fell 6-3.
“I thought they put lots of pressure on us,” a clearly unhappy Desjardins said after the game. “They've got good speed on their attack, and they went to the net hard. The goals may have looked fortunate, but they got goals and put pressure on our net.”
Vancouver was able to put 46 shots on Stars' goaltender Kari Lehtonen. But, even at that, Desjardins didn't sound all too impressed.
“I don't know,” Desjardins said. “I think when you are down, you always gamble more. You know, when you're gambling more sometimes you have more shots out of it. I think we had to gamble a little bit more, and as a result, we got quite a few shots.”
However, Vancouver's fourth line did appear on the scoresheet, as Vey and left-winger Derek Dorsett assisted on right-winger Jannik Hansen's first goal of the season at 6:45 of the third period.
“We got a couple bounces here and there,” Hansen said. “This could have been a different game. But again, push comes to shove, we can't put ourselves in a hole like that.”
NOTES: RW Radim Vrbata, C Henrik Sedin and LW Daniel Sedin have combined for seven  goals and 14 assists in four games. Vrbata finished with a goal, while the Sedins each had an assist. . . . Canucks G Ryan Miller made eight saves on 13 shots before getting pulled at 1:17 of the second period. G Eddie Lack stopped 14 shots in relief. . . . It was Desjardins’ first time back in Dallas since he was hired by Vancouver. He had been the head coach of Dallas’s AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars. . . . Vancouver will visit the St. Louis Blues on Thursday as part of their three-game road trip.

(Dickson Liong is Taking Note’s Vancouver correspondent. Follow him on Twitter at @DLLiong.)

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