The Dallas Stars seem to have finally found some consistency and progress on the ice and will stick with the same group of forwards and line combinations for the third-straight game on Friday night against the Anaheim Ducks.
This will be the first home game for the Stars with both Jamie Benn and Derek Roy on the ice as the Stars have shown flashes of a more-balanced offensive attack since Roy's return on Monday. Roy has a goal and an assist in his two games since returning with the second line of Roy, Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder appearing to be building chemistry -- just missing on several chances on Wednesday night in Edmonton.
The Stars have also received strong play from Cody Eakin, Reilly Smith and Tomas Vincour and are employing that line as a true third line -- all three received more minutes on Wednesday than Eric Nystrom and Vernon Fiddler. The new roles for each line appear to be working well, with Fiddler and Nystrom having two of the best games of the season since the line combinations change.
As such, line combos at this morning's skate were the same as before:
Some big news on the defensive side as Alex Goligoski returns to the ice after being benched against the Oilers. Philip Larsen will be the odd man out as Goligoski will once again be paired with rookie Jamie Oleksiak.
The decision by Glen Gulutzan to sit Goligoski on Wednesday night was met with confusion from some around the hockey world, while others praised his decision to make a hard choice with a veteran player seen as a very valuable member of the future of the team.
The veteran defenseman, signed to a big contract extension last season, has seemed to be playing tighter this season and not as willing to activate offensively as he had in the past. Goligoski's strengths lie in his ability to move the puck up the ice and help facilitate the offense and this season seemed to take too much of the defensive burden upon himself, leading to uneven results both offensively and defensively.
Goligoski had been handling the absolute toughest minutes of the Stars' defensemen and had succeeded in moving the puck and getting shots on net at a relatively decent level. The veteran defenseman was third on the team in shots on goal and was far from the stark defensive liability some feel he had become.
Perception becomes reality, however, especially when the hard results are not there.
The Stars have not received enough offense from the blue line this season and with the Stars already struggling to score goals, that burden is going to fall upon Goligoski's shoulders. Despite 20 shots on goal through ten games, Goligoski does not have a goal and has just three assists on the season -- far from the pace expected of him.
Those expectations, along with uneven results and a seeming loss of confidence, likely led directly to the surprise benching.
"We're just looking for him to regain some of the pep in his step and the pep in his game," Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said about Goligoski on Friday. "We want him to help us on the power play. We want him to take charge out there, which he is capable of doing."
It's clear the Stars want more from Goligoski and perhaps also used him as an example for the rest of the team; Goligoski was not, by far, the worst defenseman on the Stars thus far this season but the expectations are certainly there for him to be much better than he was through ten games.
"Initially it was a slap, then you cool down a little bit and realize some things and take positives out of it," said Goligoski of being a healthy scratch. "There's definitely another level of my game that I really haven't gotten to yet. I've just got to keep working out there, find it and just go play."