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Stars, Canucks hope to get back to defensive hockey

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com

STARS (11-13-5) at CANUCKS (18-10-2)

TV: SN, FS-SW+

VANCOUVER -- Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff wasn't surprised to hear the Vancouver Canucks talking about tightening their defense after a 5-1 loss against the New York Rangers on Saturday.

Ruff has expressed similar concerns this season about his Stars, who enter play Wednesday allowing 3.48 goals per game, most in the League, as they start a three-game road trip in Vancouver on Wednesday.

"I watched their last game so I think that's an obvious statement," Ruff said of the Canucks. "When you see 2-on-1s, 3-on-1s and sometimes when you get caught being too aggressive and you don't have the cover, it can look pretty bad. But I think they have made a living so far being really aggressive and having their [defensemen] involved."

The focus in Vancouver now is finding a better balance between that attacking style without also giving up the odd-man rushes that have plagued them during a season-worst four-game losing streak (0-3-1).

First-year Canucks coach Willie Desjardins talked about tweaking his system after a 5-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Dec. 13, which included three goals scored on odd-man rushes in the first seven minutes. But he backed off that slightly Wednesday.

"It's not like we can't play that way," Desjardins said. "But sometimes you have to recognize the other team is fresher than you are, they are more ready, they have a little more jump. And when that's the situation you have to have other things you go to at that time. We are trying to make our game a little more well-rounded. It's like going into the third period with a lead; you don’t want to be quite as aggressive. You don't want to back off but you want to have something in place so you don't give up odd-man rushes. … We are just going to be smarter when we are not in the position we want to be."

Desjardins will change his forward lines against Dallas by going back to the lines he used all season before switching them against the Rangers. He also is changing goalies, with Eddie Lack starting ahead of Ryan Miller, who has given up 18 goals while losing four of his past five starts. Miller also was pulled against the Stars on Oct. 21 after giving up five goals on 13 shots in 21:17.

Desjardins said it was a scheduled start for Lack.

"I don't know what a scheduled start means," said Lack, who bounced back after an 0-3-0 start to go 2-0-2 in his past four starts. Lack's .911 save percentage is better than Miller's .900.

This will be the second time in eight starts that Lack isn't playing the second half of back-to-back games, but it won't be an easy start against a Stars top line anchored by Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, who leads the NHL in goals (23) and points (38).

"You have to keep an eye on [Seguin] all the time," Lack said. "He's obviously a really skilled player with a really good shot."

For all the attention the Stars get for a potent top line that also will feature Jason Spezza, Dallas had a similar defensive focus during a three-day break before their most recent game, a 4-3 win against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday. Scoring hasn't been a problem for the Stars, but preventing goals has been.

"We kind of had training camp all over again," Seguin said. "Tough practices. Just getting back to our system. A bit of a reset button."

Said Benn: "This team is focusing more on defense right now. We've got to have a defensive mindset. We're not changing many things; more attention to detail and executing and doing the right thing in certain situations and playing smart hockey."

That sounds a lot like the Canucks' focus too.

Here are the projected lineups:

STARS

Jamie Benn - Jason Spezza - Tyler Seguin

Antoine Roussel - Cody Eakin - Ales Hemsky

Curtis McKenzie - Travis Morin - Erik Cole

Shawn Horcoff - Vernon Fiddler - Colton Sceviour

Alex Goligoski - John Klingberg

Jyrki Jokipakka - Trevor Daley

Jordie Benn - Jason Demers

Kari Lehtonen

Anders Lindback

Scratched: Travis Moen, Jamie Oleksiak

Suspended: Ryan Garbutt

Injured: Patrick Eaves (ankle), Patrik Nemeth (arm), Valeri Nichushkin (hip)

CANUCKS

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Radim Vrbata

Chris Higgins - Nick Bonino - Alexandre Burrows

Shawn Matthias - Brad Richardson - Linden Vey

Derek Dorsett - Bo Horvat - Jannik Hansen

Alexander Edler - Christopher Tanev

Luca Sbisa - Yannick Weber

Ryan Stanton - Kevin Bieksa

Eddie Lack

Ryan Miller

Scratched: Alex Biega, Tom Sestito

Injured: Zack Kassian (finger), Dan Hamhuis (lower body)

Status report: Ruff said backup goalie Anders Lindback likely will play against the Calgary Flames on Friday. It would be his Lindback's NHL game since Nov. 29. He went 3-2-0 with a .946 save percentage while playing five games in eight days in the American Hockey League before being recalled Sunday. … Moen is ready to return after missing the game Saturday with an upper-body injury, but Ruff did not want to change the lineup after the win against the Devils. … Desjardins returned his forward lines to their usual configuration after a one-game experiment, but switched his bottom-two defense pairings, splitting Bieksa and Sbisa after they were a combined minus-10 the past two games.

Who's hot: Seguin has five goals and seven points during a four-game scoring streak; he has 16 goals in his past 16 games. … In his past three games, two of them starts, Lack has allowed four goals on 80 shots for a .952 save percentage.

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