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Boucher Excelling in more important role for Stars

by Staff Writer / Dallas Stars

February 7, 2006

By John Tranchina

One of the key performers for the Dallas Stars this season has been defenseman Philippe Boucher. After 55 games, 14 of which he missed due to injury, he's already established a career-high for goals, tied his best point total in a season, and has elevated his defensive play to new levels.

Boucher, 32, has become one of the Stars' most important players, helping to lead the team to an 12-point cushion atop the Pacific Division and tied with Detroit for the Western Conference lead. Boucher tweaked his knee last Wednesday vs. Nashville and he is day-to-day with the injury. His goal in that game was his 12th of the season and third in five games, eclipsing his previous best of eight in 2003-04. The goal also was his 30th point, matching his output from 2001-02 with Los Angeles. The 12 goals tie him for fifth among NHL defensemen and his 30 points rank in the top 25.

But while his offensive play has helped spark the Dallas power play (he has five goals and 12 points with the man advantage), it is his overall presence on defense that has really been impressive. Boucher played a game-high 29:45 of ice time against Nashville and is averaging over 24 minutes per game, second on the team behind defense partner Sergei Zubov. His +22 plus/minus rating ranks tied-for-second in the Western Conference.

"He's a big part of our defensive corps," fellow defenseman Jon Klemm said of Boucher. "Not only has he been great defensively, he chips in offensively too. On the power play he's got a great shot. Can't say enough about the guy. It sure is great for us to have him playing the way he is."

"Everybody knows how good he can be, in terms of his all-around play that he brings to the table every night," goaltender Marty Turco added. "He's a physical defenseman in this league - that's hard to be, still - he makes some good hits. He's such a good player and a rock for us, a guy who logs that many minutes who can be so dependable and scores some big goals for us. He's one of those guys that just gets the job done and you never have to worry about."

Nothing demonstrates Boucher's significance more than the club's record when he missed 12 games with a broken finger in late December. After going 11-2 in their previous 13 games, the Stars went 7-4-1 without him -- not terrible, but nothing like the roll they were on just before or have been on since.

He actually returned after sic games, scoring two goals and an assist in a 5-3 win over Columbus on Dec. 21 and played another game before sitting out six more when the injury continued to bother him. Boucher rejoined the lineup on Jan. 6 with the finger taped up and Dallas went 11-3-0, including six straight wins. He has missed two games due to his latest injury and the team has gone 1-0-1. The good news is that he is expected back soon.

"Bouch has been awesome all year," Stars winger Bill Guerin said. "In the stretch where he wasn't playing because of his finger, we really missed him a lot. He's been one of the better defensemen in the league this year. He's been huge for us."

"Bouch has been excellent," added coach Dave Tippett. "He got derailed a little bit with the broken finger, but he's a guy that is taking a huge load of ice time for us, playing in all situations -- not just playing in the situations, being successful in the situations. He's a big part of our defensive corps right now."

Certainly, the 'new NHL' and the more wide-open, offensive style of play that it has fostered, has benefited Boucher and amplified his effectiveness.

"He moves the puck really well," Tippett said. "The new rules didn't hurt him in any way --- if anything, they helped him. He's a good special teams player, on the power play he's got a great shot, so with the power plays being up, that gives him a good chance to play to that strength. He's a good puck-moving defenseman and he defends well positionally -- he's not a clutch and grab guy, so he's excelled with the new rules."

And while some players had to adjust their play considerably in order to conform to the new standard of officiating, Boucher did not.

"I don't know that I made any adjustments," Boucher said. "I think the biggest adjustment was to stop thinking about it. In the pre-season, I was thinking about it all the time, and trying to play a different way to adjust to the rules, and I don't think I had to. After a while it's the same old game. Sure, you've got no red line and you've got the shootout, but that doesn't affect my game that much."

When the Stars cut ties with veteran defensemen Richard Matvichuk and Teppo Numminen after the 2003-04 season, Boucher moved up the depth chart and has been called on to play more often and in more critical situations, as his large chunk of ice time indicates. He's spent most of the season on Dallas' top defense pair with Zubov.

"We've changed a lot of our personnel in our D, we have some younger players, so he's had to take a little bigger role, a bigger role on both sides of special teams," Tippett said.

Additionally, Boucher's confidence has sky-rocketed, with good reason, and that has helped fuel his outstanding play even more.

"I'm playing with more confidence, not being afraid to push offensively in certain situations," Boucher noted. "I think I'm using my shot a lot better this year than I ever have before. That's probably the biggest part offensively for me right now."

"He's played consistently and at a real high level," Guerin said. "He's been really great for us."

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