The Dallas Stars open up December play while also closing out a four-game road trip this afternoon in Vancouver. There are plenty of storylines going into the game, so here are three keys to watch for once the puck drops.
Vancouver, B.C. will be the site for today’s matchup between the Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks. It’s game one of the December slate for both teams and carries an important weight with it.
For the Stars, it’s a chance to close out their current four-game road trip on a high note. Dallas (13-10-3) faced an astounding three different road trips during the month of November, with each one lasting at least three games. They are 1-1-1 in their current swing and will attempt to close it out on an above .500 note.
For the Canucks, it’s yet another chance at two points to keep them in the thick of the playoff hunt. Vancouver (11-14-3) currently sits four points behind the final wild card spot (which is held by Dallas) with 25. The only problem is that they have played 28 games, which is tied for the most of any team in the Western Conference. They are a humbling 1-8-1 in their last ten contests and need a spark to keep them in the mix.
It’s a Saturday matinee that offers plenty of different storylines, especially for Stars fans. With a heavy and difficult December schedule coming up for Dallas, this is a chance to start the month off on a strong note as they await the return of various injured starters.
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Here are three of the biggest Dallas Stars storylines that you might want to watch out for in this afternoon’s contest.
1. How does Bishop’s first game back go?
On Nov. 19 in the middle of a game with the New York Rangers, starting goaltender Ben Bishop added his name to an overwhelming list of injured Stars. While getting in position to make a save late in the second period, Bishop twinged awkwardly while moving across the crease. His spot was taken by Anton Khudobin to start the third period.
Following the game, it was announced that Bishop was considered day-to-day with a lower-body soft tissue injury. One day later, the final announced recovery time was one week.
In his absence, things started out rough but took a natural trend upward in the crease. In game one, the Stars sacrificed five goals and used both Anton Khudobin and Landon Bow; game two saw Dallas give four goals away; game three pinned three goals against the Stars; game four finished with Dallas only sacrificing one goal; finally, game five gave the Stars a 4-3 win in overtime.
But now, Bishop is back. He was activated from injured reserve on Friday afternoon and will get the start against the Canucks.
And while it’s good for the Stars to have their dynamic duo back in net, the first game back from injury is always the most difficult. Vancouver is 21st in the NHL in terms of scoring offense, but could pose a threat as Bishop acclimates himself back into the starting role.
Bishop has been solid for Dallas this year, posting an 8-5-1 record with a .923 save percentage and 2.33 goals against average. We’ll see how his first game back goes.
2. No Nichushkin this time around
The 23-year-old Nichushkin has only missed five games for the Stars this year. Those five games came early in the year as Nichushkin nursed an early-season injury. He has, however, skated in the last 18 consecutive contests.
It’s an intriguing change for Dallas, but may be a necessary one. Though Nichushkin has played well in the defensive end this season, he’s done little to impress on offense besides a few nifty assists early on. He’s averaging 12:30 of ice time per game and has been put in positions to succeed in the offensive zone, but has simply yet to come through.
In his rookie season, it took him only seven games to tally his first point and 12 games to notch his first goal. By game 21, he had two goals and eight points along with a +3 rating. This time around, he’s got just four assists and a rating of zero.
Broad Street Buzz
With Nichushkin as the healthy scratch on offense, make sure to keep an eye on Smith (two goals and three points in 13 games), who is still vying for a full-time starting spot. This storyline will also be interesting to follow into the games to come when Nichushkin will likely be back in the lineup.
3. Bonjour, Antoine
Perhaps the biggest story for the Dallas Stars and their fans this afternoon will be that of Antoine Roussel.
After spending six seasons and breaking into the NHL as a Star, Roussel departed to Vancouver via free agency on July 1.
Known for his aggressive and energetic style of play as well as his ability to get under the skin of the opposition, Roussel’s physical nature was almost always an asset to a Dallas Stars team in a transition period between 2013-2018. As a new era was ushered in, Roussel provided life and intensity to the lineup with each passing game.
He’ll square off against his former team for the first time this afternoon.
“They know my tricks , so it will be a little harder,” Roussel told Mike Heika of DallasStars.com. “I’ll just focus on my game, and I won’t be surprised if they give me the silent treatment. It will be fun.”
Roussel was never known for his goal-scoring abilities (though he tallied some timely ones) or offensive output in his Dallas career, but instead for his pure adrenaline and pesky play. We’ll see if the Stars can counter it today after so many years of using it to their advantage.
All in all, it’s shaping up to be an exciting game filled with plenty of stories. We’ll see where it goes when the puck drops at 3 p.m.