As little as 19 days ago, we were trying to figure out why Mark Fistric was a healthy scratch at Pittsburgh on March 6th. Who ever knows why coaches really scratch guys? It could be for little tweaks we don't know about to the player, or a poor showing at practice, etc. Who knows? What we DID know is that the Stars were leaving guys in front of the net unattended in post-Olympic play, and Mark Fistric was the one guy we could count on to counter that sort of deficiency.
In his nine consecutive starts since the Pittsburgh scratch, Mark Fistric has played an average of 17:51 a game and tallied a +/- rating of +7.
Should Mark Fistric be getting scratched on important road trips like that? He's been with the team for a while right? After all, he was with the team in 2007-2008 when they made that big run to the WCF.
Actually, in his career Fistric has only played in...
131 NHL regular season games. That sounds low when you think of Nick Grossman who's played in 213 or Matt Niskanen who's played in 224, but it's one of the biggest reasons that fans have to expect even more improvement out of Fistric next year. He's 23 years old and he's leading the team in plus/minus at +20. When Joe Nieuwendyk talks about his young defense improving, (thus feigning that defensive upgrades are not as necessary as people think?) feel free to roll your eyes, but keep one of them on Mark Fistric.
His +20 carries some skepticism with it; mainly this: How often does he play against the other teams top line? That's a fair question to ask and it would take a lot of digging to find the answer, but as it is with Brad Richards, I'd say the same about Fistric: It's more frequent on the road than it is at home. It's happened enough, and with quite frankly a bad team in Dallas, that it merits recognition.
It merits even more recognition when you realize how little he helps his own cause by getting in on the scoring. 1 goal and 9 assists are all he's added this year, so he's not exactly a "fantasy" kind of guy, but what he lacks in offense he more than makes up for with physicality and perseverance. He's been sent away multiple times by the old coaching staff and the new, and each time has come back a little stronger, so much so that the numbers are now starting to speak for themselves.
Nick Grossman, Matt Niskanen and Mark Fistric all saw time in the 2008 playoff run, but it was Fistric that was shown the healthy scratch seat when Zubov, Norstrum and Boucher were all healthy. If that scenario were to play out again today, which of the three would get scratched? Not Fistric.
I would also venture to say that of those three, Fistric is the one we can expect the most improvement from going forward. (This is meant to be a compliment to Grossman, who has accomplished so much already, not a detractor.)
Consider Fistric's 58 games played this year:
- 20 games with a plus rating
- Only 6 games with a minus rating
- The other 32 (obviously) at an even +/- zero.
- He leads the team (among regular NHL contributors) in advanced statistics like CORSI numbers.
+/- Leaders on Defense Since the Lockout:
At an even one million dollars, a +20 rating going into tonight against the Sharks, and 23 years of age, I think it's safe to say that Mark Fistric is a big positive this team has going forward on the blue line, and if this team ever landed that big #1 D-man they need, imagine how a guy like Fistric looks anchoring your third pair. (We can dream, can't we?)
In the mean time, enjoy his much needed physicality and his continued development at a time when they sorely need it.
Fistric told the Morning News recently, ""I'm trying to take the next step and trying to get better every game, and I think that's pretty much the goal of every young defenseman," Fistric said. "You want to make good decisions, read plays well, be responsible and physical. I do feel like I'm getting better in a lot of areas."