It's been a whirlwind two days for the Dallas Stars, as they get set to take on the red hot New Jersey Devils tonight on Versus. The Stars have won just once in the month of February, while New Jersey is 15-1-2 in their past 18 games and the hottest team in the NHL. For the Stars, who are trying to figure out just how to win again, facing the Devils tonight is going to be a tough task when you consider the injuries the Stars are dealing.
Of course, getting Jamie Benn back on the ice should help.
The dynamic winger will take the ice tonight after being cleared to play by team doctors. Benn has missed 10 games and nearly a month with a shoulder injury and will be asked to immediately step up into some big minutes as the Stars attempt to save a sinking ship. Marc Crawford made some great points today on just what sort of impact Benn has on this team.
"He's shown how important a piece he is to us,'' Crawford said after the morning skate. ``I believe the depth of our scoring and the depth of our offensive players is one of the best things about our team this year. He gives us quality minutes and plays in all situations.''
With the trade of James Neal, the Stars gave up a player who had scored 72 goals in the past three seasons. Even with the addition of Alex Goligoski and the offense he provides, that production is going to be tough to replace. Jamie Benn will be a big part of that and his progress as an NHL player is perhaps the main reason Neal was expendable.
More on Jamie Benn, plus Alex Goligoski news and reaction on the trade from Razor and a few Stars players...after the jump.
While there's speculation that Benn will take Neal's spot on the top line with Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson, the word is that he will likely play center tonight while Richards continues to recover from concussion-like symptoms. The question, of course, is where Benn will play center and with whom.
With Jamie Benn and Brad Richards both hurt, the Stars were forced to use some very interesting and varied line combinations in the last game against Vancouver. Steve Ott stepped up to center Neal and Eriksson, so there's a chance we might see something along these lines:
Morrow - Ribeiro - Langenbrunner
Gagnon - Ott - Eriksson
Petersen - Benn - Williams
Sutherby - Wandell - Vincour
There's a good chance that Benn takes the center spot on the 2nd line and allows Ott to slide back to his familiar spot on the third line. There's also the hope that Vincour gets more minutes and more of an opportunity -- and hopefully with Steve Ott. Then we could see lines of:
Morrow - Ribeiro - Langenbrunner
Wandell - Benn - Eriksson
Petersen - Ott - Vincour
Sutherby - Gagnon - Williams
Although I'm certain that Crawford will be changing things up as the game progresses in an attempt to find the best combination.
Alex Goligoski was delayed in getting to Dallas because of weather and was not able to practice with the team this morning. He will be expected to play tonight and will wear #33. We have no idea who he'll be paired with (early speculation is Stephane Robidas) but there's no doubt he'll be able to come in and have an immediate impact.
Marc Crawford said they're just going to let him play his game.
"I don't think we're going to complicate it,'' Crawford said. ``A guy like him can skate himself out of trouble a lot, and hopefully he doesn't get in any.''
Crawford also went on to talk about what the addition of Goligoski does for the Dallas Stars as a team:
"Any time you add a piece like an Alex Goligoski, a guy that is a top four defenseman, it puts everybody else in the right spots," said Crawford. "It now gives us a bona fide group that we can think can handle top players in the National Hockey League and some of the players that we have been pushing up and asking to play maybe bigger minutes, now they get put down into a position where I think they are better suited at playing.
"Alex Goligoski will be a big minute man for us. He'll be a guy that can play in a top four setting. I think he'll be a nice complement to Daley, Robidas and when we get Grossman back as well. And for our other players in our lineup - whether it's [Mark] Fistric, Woywitka or Skrastins - they maybe won't have quite as much burden as they've had in the past number of games."
Stars captain Brenden Morrow had this to say about the trade, obvious a bit saddened by the loss of a long-time teammate in James Neal:
"It's a little bittersweet. We're going to miss those guy," Morrow said. "They were good guys in the locker room. James is off to a career year in goals. We wish nothing but the best for them. We're sad to see them go, but we're excited. Goligoski is a great player. He has good hockey sense. He's going to do well on the power play and help us out in that area. He logs a lot of minutes on the backend. We gave up a lot, but we got a pretty good, special player in return."
Mike Ribeiro shared the same sentiments.
"I think he might more of a bigger role here than he did in Pittsburgh, playing behind Letang and some others." said Ribeiro. "It's going to be big for us too. It's sad to see two of your teammates leaving. I've been with those guys since I got here. But it's part of the game. They needed a good player like that and so did we. Hopefully he can come in here and help us.
"What matters right now is to win games and how you win doesn't matter."
As far as why James Neal was traded, Razor pointed out how deep the Stars were at left wing and how the advancement of players such as Jamie Benn and Tomas Vincour had made Neal more expendable than some others on the team. He also agreed that Neal had perhaps regressed a bit the past few seasons and was certainly more of a streaky player than the Stars would have liked him to be.
He talked about how Neal is a finisher and had Brad Richards setting him up for most of his time in Dallas and how he is not a natural playmaker. While Neal is certainly a good player and a a great goal-scorer, his inability to play an all-around game made him an expendable asset the Stars could use in the trade. The Stars had to give in order to get and Neal was that piece.
BaD Radio also had a lengthy discussion of the trade today. You can find that audio here.