DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 16: Jamie Benn #14 of the Dallas Stars skates the puck against Scott Hannan #23 of the Calgary Flames at American Airlines Center on February 16, 2012 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Most Stars fans regarded it as pretty darned good news when they learned that Steve Ott will continue to be a Dallas Star. Jamie Benn has some additional good news for you this afternoon as practice wraps up in Frisco.
"I think I'll be a player tomorrow," said Benn of tomorrow night's big game against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins. It's still up to the coaching staff and the medical team ultimately but those who watched practice said he looked fine and ready to go - Good news for a team that, though they've turned it on here recently, could always use more offense. [Update: Gulutzan confirmed that Benn will play]
Lines used at practice are reported by ESPN Dallas to be these...
It's not hard to see why Gulutzan presumably wants to keep the Eriksson/Ribeiro/Ryder trio together if he can.
They've combined for eight of the Stars' 16 goals scored since Jamie Benn went down. Loui Eriksson was involved with a ninth in overtime on Sunday in a four on four situation in which he was paired with Steve Ott. If you want to go back from the very second that Jamie Benn left the ice in the Calgary game, Mike Ribeiro orchestrated two additional goals in the late stages of that game as well. To put it simply, he has been great, and Loui Eriksson, after a slow start with that line, is really starting to come on strong.
Continued after the jump...
There has been a thirst in the fan-base this year, at times, to see Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson together, or even to really "load up" and put those two with Ryder, but Ribeiro's hot streak coupled with Benn's return gives hope that balanced attack spread throughout the lineup can be achieved, with offense hopefully coming from all corners of the roster. Things rarely work out that way for long, but it's the plan moving forward.
The real question is how will things be affected if Brenden Morrow comes back? He could start skating as early as Friday, and then a big decision will have to be made. If the Stars are able to sustain a high level of play then Gulutzan will have to finally think about splitting up Morrow and Ribeiro. How would you draw up the lines then?
Such a large part of the Stars success lately has been the play of Ryan Garbutt, Tom Wandell, Tomas Vincour and Adam Burish. The energy and the defensive prowess shown by various parts of that group over the last four games has really enabled the Stars to keep scores low deep into games, at least giving them an opportunity to tip things in their favor as they did in Montreal (1-0 late in that game), Chicago (trailing 1-0 late in that game), and even at home against Vancouver (trailing 2-1 late in that game).
Benn and Morrow's absences have allowed Wandell, Burish and Vincour to shine with Steve Ott at various times (in a way that Josh will tell you about more in-depth tomorrow, among other things). Obviously you need Jamie Benn back in your lineup, but if Morrow is placed back with Mike Ribeiro (a pairing that has been grossly out-chanced this year) and the Fiddler trio stays intact, it leaves a whole group of guys that have had a huge positive impact on this little win streak fighting for eight minutes a night on the fourth line.
If Morrow could be placed on the Jamie Benn line with, say, Tomas Vincour, it would allow Gulutzan to use his "third and fourth" lines interchangeably as he saw fit, with one being the Fiddler line and the other being Ott, Wandell and Burish, which has excelled in a checking role. Accepting the likely fact that the Fiddler line will not be broken up, that doesn't leave much place for Ryan Garbutt - But there are a dozen avenues to explore here. This is meant only as fodder for conversation. How would you draw it up?
Having all of your puzzle pieces to play with is a good thing, but they have to fit together and fit together really well, really soon. The Stars have one of the league's toughest remaining strength of schedules and all the good done last week could turn around quick. It certainly will be interesting to see how Gulutzan uses his roster moving forward through this gauntlet called March.