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Without Robidas, Stars turn to Connauton, Oleksiak

by Steve Hunt

FRISCO, Texas -- The Dallas Stars lost veteran defenseman Stephane Robidas to a leg fracture in the second period of a 2-1 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night. He not only is one of their more veteran defensemen, but also someone who has logged a lot of ice time.

Robidas, 36, suffered the leg fracture after taking a puck to the skate from Chicago forward Jonathan Toews then sliding violently into the end boards. After leaving the ice on a stretcher, Robidas was taken to a local hospital and is expected to miss 4-6 months.

At the time of the injury, Robidas was third on the Stars in ice time at 19:54 per game and his plus-7 rating was tied for second.

Robidas had been paired with second-year defenseman Brenden Dillon, who lived with him and his family for part of his rookie season last year. With Robidas now done for most of the season, one big question is, who will be paired with Dillon on Sunday against the Edmonton Oilers?

Well, there are two possibilities. One is Kevin Connauton, who was acquired in an April trade with the Vancouver Canucks that sent center Derek Roy the other way. Connauton has been a healthy scratch for much of this season, part of which was spent on a conditioning assignment with Texas of the American Hockey League. He appeared in one NHL game, a win against the Calgary Flames on Oct. 24 in Dallas.

"I've been coming to the rink every day prepared to play. When you're sitting out a lot, that's the mentality you have to have," Connauton said. "You've just got to make sure you're staying positive and working hard because you never know when an opportunity's going to knock. Unfortunately, this is the worst kind of circumstances. You want that opportunity to come, but it's a very unfortunate part of the game we play, that things like that happen."

The other possibility for Stars coach Lindy Ruff is Jamie Oleksiak, 20, Dallas' top pick in the 2011 NHL Draft (No. 14) who was recalled from the AHL on Saturday morning. Oleksiak learned he was being recalled Friday night and caught an early-morning flight from Grand Rapids, Mich., so he could make practice at Stars headquarters here.

In 22 games with Texas, Oleksiak had five points and was a plus-4 player. He played in 16 NHL games last season and had two assists.

"It's just exciting to be here," Oleksiak said Saturday. "It's just a huge honor. I'm just going to stick to my game and do whatever got me here, just keep improving, and hopefully that's what they're looking for. It's a matter of putting in the work, using my size, playing a physical game and being a presence out there."

Ruff could juggle his defensive pairs and find someone other than Connauton or Oleksiak to pair with Dillon, but it doesn't sound like he's leaning that way.

"The tough part is the other pairs are starting to play pretty well for us and I don't know if I want to disrupt [that]," Ruff said. "But we'll figure that out."

Earlier this season, Ruff paired Alex Goligoski and Sergei Gonchar. Goligoski is now with Trevor Daley and Gonchar with Jordie Benn, and the chances of the coach putting that original pair back together are non-existent.

"I think we're going to stay away from that pair. Just since we've broken them up, things have really gone well. There's really no reason to put them back together," Ruff said.

Considering the first-year Dallas coach has been happy with how well his existing pairs have played together, splitting any of them also doesn't sound like a viable option.

"I think the chemistry on those D pairs has been really good. Daley/Goligoski has been a really good pair for us, really good," Ruff said. "Maybe you want a little more offense out of them, but defending wise, they have really defended well. We'll weigh all that."

Ruff has experienced his share of injuries and hates to see them as serious as the one to Robidas.

"That's tough. I've seen lots of injuries and it doesn't change when you see something like that. He battles so hard, he's played so well for us, he's such a good competitor that when you see that, it just hurts," Ruff said. "We've actually had a pretty clean year when it comes to staying away from injuries, so it's something every team deals with."

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