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Eriksson back on track, coming through in clutch

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

As far as slumps go, it was relatively mild, but after battling through an illness, Stars left winger Loui Eriksson is back to his usual self, producing at a point-per-game pace again.

His crucial second-effort assist on Jamie Benn’s game-winning power play goal with just 4.8 seconds left in the third period Tuesday night gave Dallas a huge 3-2 win over Phoenix and marked the third straight game the 25-year-old Swede had a hand in the game-winning goal as the Stars have stabilized their season again. 

Loui Eriksson Highlights
Following an eight-game stretch in which he’d recorded just one goal and two assists, Eriksson’s goal Feb. 24 in Detroit gave Dallas a 2-0 lead and stood up as the game-winner in a 4-1 triumph that snapped a five-game Stars losing streak, as well as a 1-8-1 slide since the All-Star break.

The next game, Saturday afternoon against Nashville, he scored the game-winner with 3:42 remaining as the Stars battled back from a 2-1 third period deficit to defeat the Predators 3-2 and maintain a top-eight position in the Western Conference standings in what is essential a 12-team dogfight for the playoffs.

“I just try to go out and play my game,” the humble, soft-spoken Eriksson said. “It’s always nice to go out and score goals, and those two games, I’ve been able to score and it’s been fun.”

“Loui does a lot of other things that don’t show up on the scoreboard,” captain Brenden Morrow said. “He’s always been a consistent performer for us and that’s just the way it goes, guys get in slumps once in a while.  It is a benefit, a plus, when he does score for us, but he does so many other things. It is nice he’s back scoring again, but I don’t think anyone was sitting in here wondering when Loui’s going to score again.”

Eriksson’s assist in Phoenix boosted his season total to an impressive 59 points in 62 games, ranking second on the club and 14th overall in the NHL as of Wednesday. His +13 plus/minus rating, which leads the squad, is another testament to his outstanding contributions at both ends of the ice, as is the fact that his average ice time of 20:48 sits second on the club among forwards. He is also first on the team and fourth in the league with 65 takeaways.

While a rumor that he was suffering from mono turned out to be false, Eriksson refused to use his recent illness as an excuse for a lack of production, although there’s no question that he has displayed much more jump since fully recovering.

“I was sick for a while, but it wasn’t that bad,” claimed the 6-foot-3, 193-pound Eriksson, who now tops the Stars with six game-winners and nine power play goals. “Now I feel much better the last couple of games - energy-wise, I’m back, so I’m ready to help the team.”

“Loui doesn’t have mono, but he’s been playing at a lot less than 100 percent,” coach Marc Crawford confirmed. “I think because he’s been skating a lot better and he’s got a little bit more energy, he’s been able to handle the rigors of the game. The real tell-tale sign for me is how well he’s skated in the last couple of games, comparatively speaking. We’ve seen him carry the puck with authority, separate himself from defensive players and he wasn’t doing that before, so I think it’s part and parcel with how much energy he’s got.” 

In addition to dealing with being sick, Eriksson also lost both his usual linemates, guys he’s developed outstanding chemistry with over the last two-plus seasons, within a span of a week. First, top-line center Brad Richards, who still leads the Stars in scoring with 63 points, went out with concussion-like symptoms and remains on the injured list seven games later. Then last week, the line’s other winger, James Neal, was traded to Pittsburgh in the deal that brought defenseman Alex Goligoski to Dallas.

While it’s been a bit of an adjustment for Eriksson skating with new linemates, the last several games he’s looked real strong alongside Benn and rookie Tomas Vincour. Besides, no one really attributes his recent soft spell, which followed a career-high 10-game scoring streak from Dec. 28 to Jan. 17, to a change in personnel.

“They’ve played together real well,” Crawford said of Eriksson’s new combo. “And on the power play, he’s playing with the same guys - it’s always been him and Ribeiro and Morrow and I thought they’ve looked as good as they’ve looked in the last little while, the last couple of days and I think a large part of that is because Loui does have more energy and he was pretty run down.”

Typically, Eriksson, who has been teamed up with Richards since the 2008 post-season, downplayed any impact playing with new linemates has had on his recent performance.

“Of course, you have to adjust a little bit, but still, there’s a lot of good players who can step up in case they get hurt,” noted Eriksson, who probably should have won the MVP at the NHL All-Star Game back on Jan. 30 with two goals and two assists. “Richie’s out with a concussion, and of course, we miss him, but it’s not something you can think about, you just have to go out and try to help the team as much as you can.”

“No question, (Eriksson and Richards) have great chemistry together, but he’s a great player, an All-Star, and those guys are expected to make their linemates better,” Morrow added. “I think whoever he plays with, he’s going to make his linemates better and the line with Benn and Vinny, they’re playing well. Benner’s been real strong since he’s come back from his injury, and he’s done a good job filling in for Brad.”

With Richards believed to be on the verge of returning soon, it will be interesting to see if Crawford will keep Eriksson with Benn or re-unite him with Richards. Either way, it’s a good bet that Eriksson will continue to play a significant role in the Stars’ playoff chase. 

With the Stars in the midst of a crucial four-game road trip that has them visiting all four Pacific Division rivals, all of whom are among the teams they’re battling for position with, Eriksson is amped up for the challenge, which continues Friday night in Anaheim (9 pm, FSSW+).

“It’s going to be fun on the road, we have tough games here coming up,” said Eriksson, who was the Stars’ second-round selection (33rd overall) in the 2003 Entry Draft. “It’s going to be fun going to Anaheim and trying to win that one.”

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