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Addition of Goligoski added new element to Stars’ D

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

There is probably no higher barometer of a player’s value in the NHL than how much ice time he receives, and for the Dallas Stars, it is an accurate reflection of how much they appreciated the services of defenseman Alex Goligoski after he joined the squad in a Feb. 21 trade with Pittsburgh.

Alex Goligoski Highlights
In the 23 games he suited up for Dallas, Goligoski averaged a whopping 26:04 of ice time per game, which, if maintained for the entire season, would have ranked third in the entire NHL. He immediately upgraded the team’s offense, contributing an impressive five goals, three on the power play, and 15 points over that span.

Overall, including the 60 games he played with the Penguins, Goligoski actually played in 83 for the season and achieved career-highs with 14 goals, 32 assists, 46 points and a +20 plus/minus rating, each of which topped Stars defensemen.

With the Stars locked in a life-and-death battle for the playoffs that ultimately fell short in the season’s final game April 10, the smooth-skating Goligoski partnered with veteran blueliner Stephane Robidas to form a formidable top pairing that routinely faced the opposition’s top players.

Goligoski’s speed, ability to move the puck out of his own zone and penchant for jumping up to join the offensive rush, not to mention his prowess manning the point on the power play unit, added an element the Stars had been lacking and helped his new club to an 11-7-5 mark down the stretch.

“It was huge,” said Robidas, who ranked 16th in the league with his ice time average of 24:31, regarding Goligoski’s impact on the club. “You look at the minutes that he logged every night and you look at the way he moves the puck and the way he shoots the puck, and the way he plays on the power play, him and (center Brad Richards) - they played real well together (at the point) on the power play. He brought that new dimension that we didn’t really have.”

“I think the addition of Alex Goligoski has been huge for us,” echoed Dallas General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk, who surrendered forward James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen in the deal. “It’s allowed our defense to be a lot more mobile and move the puck better, certainly adds to our defense and what we’ve been trying to do.”

Almost immediately, the 25-year-old native of Grand Rapids, MN developed a strong chemistry with Robidas and the duo performed well down the stretch together, complementing each other nicely.

“He’s an easy guy to play with,” said Robidas, who finished second to Goligoski among club blueliners with 25 assists and 30 points. “I just basically let him go and told him to do whatever he wants. I still kind of look at him and am amazed with the things he can do out on the ice. He’s a very good addition to our team. Since he got here, it changed a little bit of how we play, because of how good he is with the puck and how well he’s been skating. He’s not afraid to jump into the play and create a lot of offense, and he’s been very good defensively, too.”

That is one aspect of his game Goligoski has concentrated on - his play in the defensive zone, and he’s raised some eyebrows in that area as well.

“I never really go out there looking to jump up in the play,” said Goligoski, who was the Penguins’ second-round selection (61st overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. “If I see an opportunity, I’ll go, but if it’s not there, I’m a defenseman, so it’s defense first. If there’s a chance where I can get up there, I’ll definitely go.”

In Pittsburgh, he averaged 20:45 of ice time per game, which was just fifth-most among Penguin defensemen at the time, so it is clear that Goligoski’s responsibilities and the caliber of opponents he faced in Dallas was a significant step up for him. Along with the addition of penalty killing duties to his repertoire, Goligoski proved he could handle, and even thrive, with the extra workload, and the pressure of high expectations, very well.

“It’s been great, it’s gone really smoothly,” said the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Goligoski of his expanded role in Dallas. “They’re situations I’ve been in before, so it’s not too big of a change, maybe a little more minutes, but you ask any player, they feel more comfortable with more minutes.”

And even though Goligoski just completed his second full NHL season, he has already collected some impressive playoff experience, most notably contributing to Pittsburgh’s run to the 2009 Stanley Cup. Additionally, he helped lead Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to the AHL’s Calder Cup Finals in 2008, scoring 28 points in 23 playoff games along the way, and in three seasons at the U. of Minnesota, Goligoski helped the Gophers win the WCHA championship in 2007 and advance to the NCAA Frozen Four in 2005.

That kind of big-game experience garners him instant respect from his teammates.

“He’s 25, he’s got that experience of winning a Cup and playing with great players,” noted captain Brenden Morrow. “We’re still a fairly young group here, and we can use all that experience.”

“You kind of learn that a lot of things aren’t the end of the world, you put things behind you that don’t go well, and when you’re playing well, you try to ride streaks like that,” Goligoski said of what his playoff runs have taught him. “You just take things as they come. You’re never as good as you are when you think you’re really good and you’re never as bad as you are when you’re not playing well. Just keep an even keel and don’t let your emotions get the best of you.”

After falling just short of the post-season in 2010-11, Goligoski hopes to be part of a playoff squad here next year, and with a full season to cement the acclimation process, there’s every reason to believe he’ll contribute significantly to that result.

“He’s been terrific for us,” Nieuwendyk said. “Clearly, I think Alex was a player-type that we were really missing here. You don’t really realize it until you have it in your lineup, what you’ve been missing, and he’s provided that for us. You look at the minutes alone and the way that he plays for us has really given our group, not only on the back end, but our forwards, a lot of confidence. His style of play seems effortless at times, he’s really a good skater and he’s been providing offense, too, for us from the back end, which is something we really haven’t had here since Sergei Zubov.”

“I think it was a really good addition for our team,” Robidas said. “He’s a great defensemen, can move the puck really well, can jump into the play, reliable defensively, too. I think it just adds to our defense and it’ll be nice to have him for a full year next year.”

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