After the way he torched opponents during the Dallas Stars’ last homestand, perhaps just a return home, following three difficult road losses, for a span of three straight home games this week will allow left winger Loui Eriksson
to start up where he left off.
Eriksson, who dominated two straight games the last time we saw him at the American Airlines Center, with four goals and seven points, including a career-high four-point night in a 6-3 triumph over Phoenix on Nov. 5, has jumped out to a strong start in 2010-11, as has his entire line. Eriksson had a five-game scoring streak in which he totaled five goals and 10 points snapped on Nov. 6 when Dallas was shut out 5-0 in Colorado, although he did pick up an assist Friday night in Anaheim and another one Tuesday (also against the Ducks).
Along with center Brad Richards, with whom he’s enjoyed outstanding chemistry over the last couple of seasons, and third-year right winger James Neal, Eriksson and the Stars’ top offensive trio have played a significant role in the club’s fortunes so far this year.
“I’m finding ways to score right now, the guys are making good plays for me, too,” said the humble Swede, 25, who has a team-leading nine goals on the season, after topping Dallas with 29 last year and 36 in 2008-09. “It feels good. Our line is playing with confidence out there and if you play with confidence, you’re going to find ways to score and we’re finding ways right now. I’m just finding the net.”
“He’s played extremely well,” said Dallas coach Marc Crawford of Eriksson. “He’s a good player. You hate to break it down to that simple of an equation, but when you’re a good player and you have speed and you got a good reach and you’re strong on the puck, then I think the rest is a compliment to Brad Richards playing with him and James Neal playing with him. They’re dangerous on offense right now, largely because of their skill, but also the chemistry that’s evolving with them. They really feel like a confident bunch right now, and I think Loui’s setting himself apart.”
What has also set Eriksson apart is the fact that he’s scoring goals in a multitude of different ways. His beautiful move on a penalty shot on Nov. 3, in which he deked forehand-to-backhand before slipping the puck around Pittsburgh goalie Brent Johnson, gave Dallas a commanding 4-1 lead that night. Eriksson then sealed that 5-2 win with a third period goal that showed off his lethal wrist shot, as he fired one from the high slot that found its way just inside the far post.
’s penalty shot goal was as nice a goal as you’re going to see on a penalty shot,” Crawford said of Eriksson’s first career attempt.
Two nights later, his first goal was a nifty deflection from the high slot of Mike Ribeiro
’s shot/pass from the point, giving Dallas the early 1-0 lead on the power play. His second goal, on another power play, occurred when Eriksson charged the net, received a nice cross-ice pass from Matt Niskanen and tapped it into the open side of the goal.
It seemed like every time that line stepped on the ice in those games, they generated scoring chances and even did so in the recent road defeats at Colorado, Los Angeles and Anaheim, during which Eriksson totaled nine shots on goal.
“We’re finding each other right now, we create a lot of chances out there,” said Eriksson, the Stars’ second-round choice (46th overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, of his talented forward combo. “We’ve been playing really well lately, so I hope it’s going to continue. I think everyone is really excited to get off to a good start here.”
“I think we’re lucky to have that success last year and be together still, same people, same thing, everything feels the same, so we didn’t have to go through the transition of adding another winger,” added Richards, who was tied for ninth in league scoring with 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) and trailed only Eriksson on the club with a +9 plus/minus. “I think all three of us had career highs last year and I think we’re going to try to build on it.”
Of course, in addition to his prolific offense, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Eriksson offers far more value as a player than just what shows up on the scoresheet. Following in the footsteps of former teammate Jere Lehtinen, Eriksson has also developed into one of the NHL’s better defensive forwards, as is evident by his team-leading plus/minus rating of +11, which ranks tied for third overall in the entire NHL.
“He’s a terrific player,” said General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk of Eriksson. “This guy is kind of like Jere Lehtinen in waiting, in my opinion. He’s a terrific, hard worker, he brings the same game every day and when you really watch him, when you see him day-in and day-out and when you see the professionalism he brings to the rink and the way he plays, you understand why.”
The soft-spoken Eriksson typically deflected away any praise sent his way, but his center wasn’t shy about expressing how important Eriksson’s presence at both ends of the ice is to the Stars.
“From my perspective, I always try to go in and do my best out there, try to build on every game you play,” said Eriksson, who totaled three goals and an assist in four games for Team Sweden at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. “You want to get better every day you get in here.”
“I say it all the time - I think he’s one of the more underrated players in the league,” Richards said. “I get to see him every night and he’s kind of my security blanket every night. I know there’s not many games he takes off, if any.”
He’s an example all Stars players could benefit from, both on and off the ice, and at both ends of the ice.