"When Brad Richards comes back..."
That's a popular phrase these days on the tips of the tongue's of Dallas Stars fans, and why not? A 4-0-1 stretch including dramatic finishes and big wins over high quality opponents has Dallas fans pumped about what the future may bring: Hopefully a playoff round.
The assumption from everyone in Stars-land these days is that Brad Richards will swoop back in any time now and help lift the enormous weight that now rests on the shoulders of only a few, mainly Jamie Benn, Kari Lehtonen, Alex Goligoski and Stephane Robidas.
Richards didn't skate Saturday. He didn't skate Sunday. He *might* skate Monday, and even if he did he wouldn't play tomorrow night. The travel and the hectic schedule will make for light morning skates in the coming week and precious little practice time in which to ease him back into the swing of things. He's gone from "probably on Friday in Anaheim" to a big, big question mark in the near future.
In an act that served both a practical purpose and perhaps an unintentional symbolic one, Brad Richards didn't come with the team to San Jose. They left him behind and marched on without him, finding a big win.
When I wrote "With or Without Brad Richards, The Stars have a chance" on February 27th, it was with one eye on the trade deadline approaching the following day, not on a concussion situation that's starting to take on the same uncertainty as Sidney Crosby's.
It turns out I wasn't wrong, because these Stars are finding ways to put points in the bank again and though Jamie Benn might be the glue holding it all together right now, they're getting some key contributions from their depth guys that are putting them over the top...
Tom Wandell has been an enigma since arriving on the scene in Dallas a couple of years ago. People often ask us what the point of having him around is and what he does well. Some days those are difficult questions to answer and other times, like lately, they're pretty easy.
He's recorded a minus game only once in his last 13 outings. He's had a plus game in three of his last five, which is really helping the Stars out right now with the lines a mess the way they are. That's been his utility. He's been used in more of a defensive role and he's not a liability out there. His foot speed makes sure of that. His offense comes in small streaks. He had a two goal game in October in which he recorded a season high 4 SOG, and he scored in back to back games last week.
He's made a commitment, the Stars broadcast tells us, to shooting the puck more and that's where the Stars need him the most down the stretch. Through his first 55 games he averaged 1 SOG/G. In his last three he's given them 3, 3, and 2.
I know what you're thinking. Brad is really splitting hairs on this one, right?
These are the inches they need. They need people like Tom Wandell to up their game these little tiny bits. It will make all the difference in the end.
Jason Williams was acquired to be a warm body in the middle of a terrible spat of injuries that saw Benn, Burish, Richards, Barch, etc, in the press box. He has skill, he has experience, he's recovered from some troubling injuries and he's willing to play any role asked of him to help a team this time of year.
That's all well and good, but Dallas needs palpable contributions these days and his name has cropped up on the scoresheet a couple of times recently; Points in consecutive games, in fact. It doesn't matter that the goal he scored was a prayer because he scored it, and his confidence will grow, even if his ice time doesn't.
"Every horse pulling in the same direction"...We like the effort we've seen from Williams lately. Let's have a big old second helping of it.
Who else? Adam Burish has scored recently. Krys Barch got a bounce in Detroit. These are the things they need right now, and they're getting them. Who will step up next? Toby Petersen nearly did on a breakaway in San Jose. What about Trevor Daley? What about Robidas? New heroes are needed nightly for this kind of assault on a tight playoff race.
Ribeiro and Morrow:
Sports fans have short memories, and everyone expects your "best players to be your best players," so when I say what follows here I say it apologetically, because times are tough.
Yes, Mike Ribeiro has a couple of secondary power play assists lately, including a great play on the Benn winner in Phoenix (in which Brenden Morrow also participated). Yes, the two were credited for generating an even strength game winner on Goligoski's miracle against Nashville nine days ago, and yes they're both out there playing their butts off every night, but if the Stars are going to continue on without Brad Richards, they're going to need more from these two.
Add in Ribeiro's last two games on the face off dot (43% and 38%) and a market correction is probably forthcoming. As teams start game planning for the two lines Jamie Benn pilots more and more, opportunity for Ribeiro and Morrow should increase on this home stand and having last change will help them.
The contributions from the third and fourth liners is nice but the Captain must lead on the scoresheet as well as physically and emotionally. He's scored only once in his last 10 games and still leads the team in goal scoring. His offense will likely be back soon enough, even if Brad Richards isn't.