This past summer when the Dallas Stars announced the team had signed free agent Stanley Cup champion Adam Burish fans immediately began to fantasize of his pairing on a line with Steve Ott. Like Ott, Burish was a fan favorite and a player known for his agitating abilities as well as his offensive flourishes. The prospect of having two like players on one line, driving opponent's crazy game in and game out, fans likely had visions of Fulton Reed and Dean Portman dancing through their heads as suddenly the Stars had their own version of the Bash Brothers.
Two years ago, the Dallas Stars signed another "Ott-like" player during the summer when Brett Hull gambled with a four-year, $16 million contract given to Sean Avery. At the time, the Stars stated that Avery was the missing piece that would give them that edge that was missing against the Red Wings in the playoffs. Avery would be a player who's fire and and agitating ability would only add to the steps the Stars were taking to be even more "tougher to play against". Sound familiar?
At the time, however, fans and the media immediately questioned the signing. Avery is a player that not many players around the NHL likes and just a few months before the Stars themselves had stated publicly they could never play with him. Now he was on the team and we all remember how that turned out. That mistake of a signing is still haunting the Stars today.
Burish is different and presents a much better fit for the Stars. His leadership and his ability to lead his teammates is exactly what this team needed coming off some disappointing seasons. His ability to push the Stars forward has been helped by the emergence of Steve Ott as a true dominating force on the ice. Ott has had some ups and downs the past two seasons but it appears that now he is finally hitting his stride as a hockey player.
He's found a balance between agitating and offense and now -- along with Burish -- he's added a new element of his game to his portfolio: defensive specialist.
Steve Ott and Adam Burish didn't actually start off the season on the same line. While many in the media and fans alike considered the two playing together to be a foregone conclusion, Marc Crawford initially placed Burish on the second line playing right wing with Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow. Ribeiro has always preferred a right-handed shot on his right wing and the way that line started the season it appeared that Burish would actually be filling an offensive-minded role with the Stars instead of the rougher role many expected.
A few weeks back, however, Crawford began to tinker with the lines. The Stars were struggling to find consistency and were starting to lose their offensive prowess and depth while also suddenly struggling defensively. What helped his decision making was the sudden rise of Jamie Benn from young player with promise to becoming a player that dominates every time he's on the ice. Crawford began to put Benn on the right wing with Ribeiro while sliding Burish down to the third line with Steve Ott.
Suddenly the Stars had found a combination that has become the key to team's recent success.
Steve Ott had a bit of of a slow start to the season and many fans were concerned with his lack of aggressiveness as well. While his lack of offense wasn't exactly alarming, Ott was not the physical force he had been known for either. In the first two games of the season Ott took eight minor penalties; this definitely appeared to affect his confidence the first month of the season and through the next nine games he had just three points and only four penalty minutes.
Yet he began to regain his old form and the past two weeks Ott has started to play at a completely different level that we've ever really seen from him before. In 2008 Ott took over for Brenden Morrow on the top line and showcased he could be much more than an agitator, becoming an impressive offensive threat. What the Stars needed was for Ott to find a balance between the two sides of his game and recently he's embraced the role the Stars have needed him to fill.
When a team gets on a six-game winning streak it's not solely because of great goaltending or the dominance of one line. It takes a team effort to win consistently on the road and at home and Ott has become a major reason for the recent success the Stars have enjoyed.
When Adam Burish was placed on the left wing with Ott, coach Crawford suddenly found he possessed the very definition of a shutdown checking line. Ott found new life with Burish on his wing and while he's never truly been known as a full time center, Ott has become the leader on the all-important third line the Stars would love to use against the best players opponent's have to offer. This allows Crawford to play Brad Richards and Mike Ribeiro against more favorable matchups and he can use Ott and Burish to shut down the top lines the Stars face.
Two games ago, Ott and Burish were instrumental in the win against the Washington Capitals. The two players, along with Toby Petersen on the right wing, not only shut down Ovechkin and the top line of the Capitals but provided a good dose of offensive pressure as well. They showed just how far they've come as they've grown into a true "two-way" threat and against Minnesota the two players were the best on the ice for the Stars. Burish and Ott each netted a goal and Ott continued his growth into becoming a dominating force on both ends of the ice.
His play has always inspired his teammates. Before, it might have been because of a big hit or a fight but now he's inspiring with pure hockey skill on offense and defense, by becoming the Stars' best option in the faceoff circle and by driving the team's effort from night to night.
"He's been great. He's been killing penalties," Stephane Robidas said after the win against the Wild. "He did a great job last game against Ovechkin. He and Burish scored two big goal tonight and that's exactly what we're talking about when we say we need differnet guys to chip in at different times."
Adam Burish and Steve Ott have not paired up to become the Bash Brothers. They aren't flying all around the ice, indiscriminately hitting opponents and causing trouble. Instead, the two have become the best option the Stars have in shutting down the opponents while providing true offensive threat on the other end of the ice. What's amazing is that it appears Ott and Burish have become more confident offensively while growing into their roles as defensive specialists.
In today's NHL teams must have a solid third line to be successful. Up to now the Stars have always had two powerful top lines and two decent third and fourth lines without defined roles. If the Stars hope to find success past the regular season, this is the type of effort and depth the team must have.