The Dallas Stars search for consistency, depth scoring and overall chemistry continues tonight in Vancouver, as coach Glen Gulutzan has once again made some big changes on the line combinations as the team prepares to play the touted Canucks.
Mike Heika brings us the news today from practice that Reilly Smith will finally get that big chance in the top six that Stars fans have been waiting for, playing on a line with Derek Roy and Loui Eriksson. The move up also has a different dynamic to it; instead of moving Smith to the right wing (where he mostly played in college and in Texas), he'll be on the left wing next to Roy.
"I think it's an opportunity for [Smith], and it's up to him to see where he takes it," Gulutzan said. "There are some expectations moving up the lineup, and he has to produce. He's in his 13th game tonight and I don't think he has a point, so we'll give him an opportunity to play with two really good players and see what happens."
This is the move that many expected to happen when Ray Whitney was injured two weeks ago and Reilly Smith was recalled from the Texas Stars; instead, Brenden Morrow moved up and Smith helped form one heck of a third line with Cody Eakin. Despite being one of the best on the team at getting pucks to the net, Smith is yet to get a point in his NHL career thus far; it's hopeful this move will not only spark Smith but also get the second line to provide a bit more depth scoring with a bit of a different chemistry on the ice.
That means that Loui Eriksson will be on his more natural right wing, which could be a big boost for the talented winger who has had a very rough start to this season by his standards. Something just hasn't been right for Eriksson this season (we haven't received any sort of hint as to whether or not something is actually wrong) and perhaps being back on the right wing will help.
"I had a long talk with Loui yesterday," Gulutzan said on Friday. "I talked to Loui about his comfort level, and he's played right wing quite a bit, and he saw it as a positive thing, especially with a left center in Derek. We made the move and we have [Smith] there, and he has the top six potential, and we'll see what can transpire there, but for us to be successful, Derek and Loui have to be our best players there every night."
The shift also means Michael Ryder moves down as well. The lines tonight, according to Heika:
Morrow - Benn - Jagr
Smith - Roy - Eriksson
Roussel - Eakin - Ryder
Nystrom - Fiddler - Garbutt
Ryder has been one of the more consistent players for the Stars the past two weeks and has shown some legitimate tenacity in the two games on this road trip so far; it will be interesting to see what a line of him, Eakin and the supercharged Roussel will be able to accomplish.
"You gotta play three (lines)," said Gulutzan, referring to the success of the best teams in the NHL. "I just have a feeling there's something with [Eakin's] work ethic, and something with [Ryder], there's just something clicking there. Cody is a guy that gets to the offensive zone, he gets there with speed and he can hit the back of the net and perhaps a guy like Ryder moving in the opposite direction and he's a quick-strike guy so...we put a worker in there with Roussel and we'll see what we have."
With Oleksiak back in Austin, the Stars will roll once again with Alex Goligoski paired with Philip Larsen. I'll leave commentary on that situation alone for now; we'll be diving into that quagmire next week, most likely.
Dillon - Robidas
Rome - Daley
Goligoski - Larsen
One big storyline we have sort of neglected is the return of Brenden Dillon to Vancouver as a starting defensman in the NHL; Dillon is a native of British Columbia. Mike Heika had a great column on this with over at the DMN($), that I highly recommend reading:
Because of his small size, Dillon worked on his skating and stick-handling. He said he developed a determination and hunger just so he could compete with larger players.
"I had a chip on my shoulder, and I always wanted to prove myself to people who didn't think I was a player," he said. "I just always wanted to get better, no matter what it took - physically better, stick skills, whatever it took. Maybe it's one of those things where you just don't realize it until you get through it."
But as Dillon worked, his body grew. By the time he was 20, he was 6-3. Now at 22, he weighs 230 pounds. So all of the work he did back in the day has sort of compounded exponentially. Yes, he's big and physical, but he also can skate and has quick hands.
Dillon was passed over in the WHL and NHL draft because of his size, but then exploded in his fourth season with the Seattle Thunderbirds and was signed by the Stars. Less than two years later, Dillon has been perhaps the most consistent defenseman with the Stars and averages more than 20 minutes a night on the top pairing. It's a great story.
Puck drop is at 9 p.m. CT.