After Dallas Stars' 5-1 Win Over Calgary Will Alex Goligoski Continue to Sit?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Connauton was solid in his first NHL outing after some first period jitters - Do the Stars reinsert Goligoski after a message sent or stay the course?

Alex Goligoski sits. Kevin Connauton makes his NHL debut. The Dallas Stars win.

Now what?

Connauton admitted to being nervous before the game (and who wouldn't be?) but ended the game with a +2 rating to go along with four blocked shots, two misses and his first minor penalty for hooking in the first.

"I thought he played OK in his first game, maybe a little nervous in the first period but I thought he settled in and that pair was pretty efficient after that," Stars head coach Lindy Ruff said, echoing Connauton's own thoughts on The Ticket post-game show.

"I thought Kevin started to use his legs a little bit and felt a little bit better about his game as the game went on."

By the numbers (visit Extraskater.com to view 5-on-5 shot attempt differentials) the Connauton and Gonchar pairing was the second best on the night behind Robidas and Dillon, who had a monster game.

So the real question heading into Saturday is: Will Alex Goligoski play, or did Connauton do enough to earn another look?

On one hand changing things after a 5-1 win is not something many coaches would like to do. One the other hand, when a $4.6 million defenseman gets the dreaded healthy scratch it's almost always a one-game message and then it's game-on again.

And it was a message. Not just to Goligoski, but the entire defense and Ruff seemed pleased last night when it was all said and done.

"A lot better," he said of the unit. "A lot better with our sticks, a lot better with getting our bodies in lanes. Sergei blocked a key opportunity in the second. The point shots weren't getting through near as easy as they were in the previous two games and that's something we're going to keep working on."

It's easy to say after a 5-1 win, and a little positivity around there is a good thing as evidenced by practicing with a tennis ball to change their "state of mind," but wasn't it Kari Lehtonen that was the difference in the defense?

The Stars had a few of those fire-drill shifts last night in the latter half of the first period and early going in the second -- the kinds of shifts that seemed to end with a goal against or a penalty on the road against better competition. Lehtonen was there to shut the door, calmly, and let the team carry (Kari) on.

The end result was a three-goal outburst that changed the narrative of the game and a desperate Calgary team gripping their sticks too hard, unable to create real chances once the game had been turned so swiftly.

Give the Stars defense, and that includes the forwards, credit for pulling away and not taking their feet off the gas, but know that it was Lehtonen who held the thing together in some key moments, allowing it to transpire that way.

Where Goligoski and Connauton are concerned it's a risk/reward proposition.

We think, think, that Goligoski's upside is better. His pedigree. His experience. His ceiling. An Alex Goligoski playing at his best, his very best, is (probably) better than what Kevin Connauton is going to give you this season as a rookie with 14-16 minutes.

So do the Stars, so early in the season with such a long way to go, set their sights on getting Goligoski playing his best hockey at a cost because it will be worth it in the long run, or do they roll with Connauton and make this a protracted episode? It's not out of the question that Dallas wins against Winnipeg Saturday night and then against what looks like a beatable Buffalo team Monday. What then, if it gets that far?

The stability of the pairings is at stake here as well. Brenden Dillon and Stephane Robidas don't appear likely to be broken up any time soon -- and that leaves Ruff and staff mixing and matching Gonchar and Goligoski with Daley and Benn. They tried that for 55 minutes in Anaheim and it didn't come out so well, but nothing did that night.

Jordie Benn and Daley have really been pretty good this season if not taxed. They're #2 and #3 on the team in Fenwick-close percentage (again, see here at Extraskater.com).

So there's a lot to consider if you're the Stars' coaching staff, but we'd think keeping a winning formula together for a team in desperate need of points is a tempting proposition.

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