After a lengthy stretch of disappointing results, the Dallas Stars appear healthy and ready to scrap for one of the precious few Western Conference playoff spots still available. They've won three in a row and appear (nothing is a certainty) poised to get their leading scorer Brad Richards back on Friday night in Anaheim.
A cursory glance at what they've done lately without him (three wins against three high quality opponents) might suggest they're perfectly capable of competing on their own but they know better. The task will get harder each step of the way and they'll likely need him to establish some consistency. Especially on the power play.
Dallas has been able to stop a pretty horrific slide thanks in large part to Jamie Benn. The 21 year old has been double and triple shifted, played center and wing, been the Stars best player both on and off the puck and has led the forward group in ice time in recent games (23 minutes against Phoenix on Tuesday).
He's been dominant and he's picked up the slack for Richards almost single handedly, but he cannot be stretched so thin indefinitely, and there's one place, despite his heroic goal with 4.8 seconds remaining the other night, where he cannot hope to replace Brad Richards, and that's with the man advantage.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: Brad Richards is the Dallas Stars power play. They've managed only three power play markers in the seven games he's missed. The last two were game winners and that underscores the importance of the thing, but even with the addition of Goligoski, it likely cannot go on producing without him, and they'll need it to continue winning games.
All of last year the Stars scored 62 power plays goals. Guess how many Brad Richards was on the ice for? ...
Continued after the jump...
For 57 of their 62 power play goals Brad Richards on the ice last year. They managed it without him only five times. To their credit they've done it already 10 times this year, but it's still not a position in which they'd like to find themselves down the stretch.
In 2010-2011 the Stars have scored 44 power play goals. Brad Richards has had the goal, primary assist or secondary assist on 25 of them and has been on the ice for 34.
Of paramount importance for Dallas is the upcoming seven game home stand and the opportunity presented there to cash in on what used to be a very good home power play. At one point earlier this season the Stars had the league's second best home power play but have fallen off recently with a 4/34 stretch (11%).
It sure would be nice to have that thing cashing in at it's season average of 23.1% at home when that big home stand comes around next week.
The Goligoski factor
Many view Alex Goligoski as a #4 type defenseman in the NHL but it's clear already that the Stars will give him #1 minutes and opportunities including all the power play time he wants. He has yet to play a single minute with Brad Richards and has instead shared time at the point with Stephane Robidas for the most part, but the long anticipated pairing could come to fruition this weekend.
He was asked about the possibility of a Goligoski/Richards manned point on the PP this week on sports radio 1310 The Ticket and in typical Brad Richards fashion he gave he a very noncommittal "Yeah, it could be fun."
We rather like to think it could be more than fun, but we're homers, aren't we?
The truth is that the availability of both players strengthens the second power play unit, should they choose to use one, as Robidas and Daley both have seen their PP minutes increase since the departures of Matt Niskanen and James Neal in addition to the Brad Richards injury. Mainstays on the PP in Morrow and Ribeiro have seen their minutes creep up as well.
With Goligoski and Richards both in the lineup the minutes distribution should make a little more sense and defenses will have to be that much more mindful.
This is probably wishful thinking on our part but stick with me here. Alex Goligoski at the point WITH Brad Richards could mean that Mike Ribeiro takes less power play draws.
Last season Ribs won only 90 of 205 power plays faceoffs taken (43%). This season he's improved that greatly, reaching 49% on PP draws but because he takes the overwhelming majority of them it makes each power play a 50/50 proposition on whether or not they'll get off to a good start.
Brad Richards, being the point man last year, took much fewer PP faceoffs but won in excess of 60% of them. Will Alex Goligoski's presence allow for more Brad Richards faceoff opportunities with the extra man? My gut tells me no, owing to the fact that Marc Crawford likes what he likes, but it's fun to dream about and it just makes sense and if all else fails, get Steve Ott, faceoff dynamo out there.
Before closing this... Why is Jamie Benn 11th on the team in PP minutes per game?
There was a time two seasona go when Loui Eriksson was closing in on his first 30 goal season and folks were asking similar questions: Why isn't your best goal scorer on the power play?
Same thing with Jamie Benn. It's part of the process and one day he will be out there as much as anyone else but that's not the way Marc Crawford wants to play it right now. Benn's 2:17 PPTOI/G will have to content him for now, and if he keeps playing the way he has then Richards, Goligoski and Benn will all be out there at the same time. Add Eriksson and your choice of Morrow, Ribeiro, and Ott and you've got a lot of options.
The recent power play game winners have been..."palate cleansing," to say the least, but let's not forget what got them into that bad way in February. They didn't score on a major penalty in Boston. They didn't register a single shot on a 4 minute double minor against New Jersey. They didn't score on 5 on 3's. The power play had chance after chance to change the complexion of so many games last month and it just did not.
It all starts with Richards. The power play, much like the direction of the franchise this summer, runs straight through him.