[Update by Brandon Worley] Mike Heika is reporting that Brad Richards will not play tonight against Anaheim. Also, Steve Ott practiced as the second line center with James Neal and Loui Eriksson, with Tom Wandell centering the third line between Sutherby and Brunnstrom.
Ott is still being bothered by a sore oblique muscle. [End Update]
Last night during our weekly podcast Art, Brad, Brandon B, and I talked about a number of players that needed to step up while the Dallas Stars fight injuries. This team doesn't have the depth at center that it needs to have to make up for the loss of Mike Modano and Brad Richards and a number of veteran wingers had disappeared the past few games, turning the team into a one-line threat.
We talked about Brian Sutherby, James Neal and Loui Eriksson and how they needed to play better. While their play is definitely instrumental to the success of this team, it's a player that's returning from injury that needs to have the biggest impact.
Last season, Steve Ott became the MVP of the Dallas Stars after returning from injury. He was tenacious, physical and a legitimate offensive threat. He found the perfect balance between being an menace for the other team and taking them apart on the scoreboard.
His attitude and energy, much like Brenden Morrow's, is contagious to the players around him. When Ott is on top of his game, being an annoyance without taking bad penalties and scoring big goals, the Stars are at their best. With Morrow back on the ice, the Stars have two players with similar styles that can have the same impact on separate lines, something this team is in desperate need of as they go on the road against Anaheim and Los Angeles.
After a career season in which Ott scored 19 goals, had 27 assists and took 132 shots on net, he has had a much quieter impact this season. In the four games before his oblique strain, Ott had just one point and had taken only five shots on goal. While the production on the scoreboard is low, he has been nearly invisible in every other aspect of the game as well.
We have yet to see the Steve Ott that wrecks havoc against the opposition, that draws penalties with his tenacity and throws vicious (and hopefully clean) checks in a effort to spark his team.
In disappointing losses against Boston and Los Angeles over the past few days, the Stars have had a noticeable lack of physicality and have been unable to exert their will along the boards. Only Morrow has consistently crashed the boards and created chances while doing so.
More importantly, this is a team that will be playing their fourth game in six days and are on the road. We've already seen this team start to develop some tired legs while they chase the game up and down the ice, fighting to establish a flow and rhythm on offense. Steve Ott, fresh off a week on injured reserve, is rested and almost certainly itching to get back on the ice.
His energy will be instrumental in the Stars overcoming this early-season slump, especially if Brad Richards can't play. Steve Ott needs to get back to be the player he was last season, the one who dominated the ice and led this team on a charge up the standings.
While he wasn't able to maintain that level of play all season, he doesn't need to this year.
He just needs to hold the fort until the team is back to full strength.
With the Dallas Stars on the verge of falling off a dangerous precipice so early in the year, Steve Ott needs to be glue the binds this team together and gives them that spark they so desperately need. Brenden Morrow can't do it all on his own.