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Benn’s Return Has Only Made Stars More Formidable

by Steve Hunt / Dallas Stars

During the six games that Jamie Benn missed with a leg injury, the Stars’ first line of Loui Eriksson, Mike Ribeiro and Michael Ryder more than carried the offensive load for the club. Benn, a 2012 NHL All-Star, returned last Wednesday against the Penguins and has a goal and an assist in his first three games back.

Jamie Benn Highlights
“It’s tough watching games and it’s good to be back out there with the guys,” Benn said after the Pittsburgh game.

And in Sunday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Flames, the 22-year-old center didn’t get on the stat sheet during regulation or overtime, but he did have a nice move on Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff that helped the Stars secure the win in the shootout.

Benn also had an assist in Friday’s 3-1 win over the Oilers, a victory that kicked off the Stars’ three-game swing through Western Canada on a very positive note.

“I think there’s points on the line that we need, pretty big games. We need to get a solid road effort, play simple road games and then we’ll be fine,” he said prior to the start of their current road swing.

Now he and the Stars have a full day off before ending their trip in Vancouver on Tuesday night, a place this British Columbia native knows quite well. Benn expects to have a sizeable cheering section featuring both friends and family when he and his teammates lace ‘em up with the Canucks tomorrow night.

“It’s fun,” he said. “Those are the exciting games that you get to play. And for me to get to go back to Vancouver I definitely look forward to it every year. Playing in front of friends and family is always cool.”

Dallas now has 16 games remaining in the regular season and getting Benn back is definitely huge for Glen Gulutzan’s club. Not only is he an All-Star talent, but over a similar stretch last season, he definitely was at the top of his game, contributing 17 points (5-12-17) over the Stars’ last 16 games of the last regular season.

“The guys are playing good hockey. It’s like playoff hockey out there,” Benn said. “It’s good to see and you can definitely feel it out there.”   

Earlier this year, he and close friend Loui Eriksson were paired up on the same line. The 2011 All-Star is now paired with Ribeiro and Ryder, but along with the rest of the team, he realizes how big it is to now have one of their most talented players back on the ice.

“That’s really helped our team to get back to who it is. We definitely need him here and it’s a big boost for us to have him here,” Eriksson said.

With Stars captain Brenden Morrow still out with an upper body issue, Benn has been paired alongside Steve Ott and Adam Burish on Dallas’ second line. It’s an interesting group with two gritty guys like Ott and Burish on a line centered by Benn, who is an obvious skill guy. While it’s a group that hasn’t been together all that long, the man in charge is encouraged by what he’s seen from this trio thus far.

“I thought Bur’s game the last five or six games has been real good and I thought Otter’s been consistent for a while here now. Bennie’s a guy that creates a lot of chances and he can do a lot on his own. Those other two have to work,” Gulutzan said. “Otter brings physicality and Bur has done a great job of getting to the net and getting to loose pucks. I think that they can be an effective group but we’ll see how that goes.”

And it’s not like Ott and Burish can’t contribute on the score sheet when called upon. After assisting on Eriksson’s shorthanded goal in the second period of Sunday’s win at Calgary, Ott now has points in five of his last six games and Burish set a new career high with 10 assists this season last week. Morrow might return when the San Jose Sharks visit American Airlines Center on Thursday, which would likely mean Burish drops down to the fourth line. But for now, this is the line Gulutzan will go with and it’s definitely an interesting mix yet one that has worked pretty well in a relatively small sample size.

Still, this is the time of year when every team in the NHL needs all hands on deck if they are to reach their ultimate goal-a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Getting Jamie Benn back was a huge step in the right direction and getting captain Brenden Morrow back on the ice as soon as later this week would also be huge for this club going forward because if the Benn line can start firing on all cylinders like the Eriksson, Ribeiro, Ryder line has been doing pretty much since the All-Star break, then this looks like a formidable foe down the stretch and even into the playoffs.

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