After arriving in town earlier in the day, Goligoski, the 25-year-old defenseman acquired by the Stars in a trade with Pittsburgh, was introduced to his new teammates and then took the ice with them hours later.
For his Stars debut Tuesday night at the American Airlines Center, Goligoski looked like he fit in pretty well with his new team, despite the fact that the Stars dropped a disappointing 1-0 decision to New Jersey. Pairing up with top blueliner Stephane Robidas
, Goligoski logged 23:34 of ice time, ranking second on the squad to his new partner, and fired one shot on goal.
“I feel pretty comfortable out there,” Goligoski said of his performance, which also included two penalties. “It’s a tough loss, but everybody has been great. It’s a group that wants to win games and it’s always fun to be a part of that.”
“He’s a good player,” Robidas said of the new addition. “He moves the puck really well. For a guy that flew in this morning, I think he played really well. He’s just going to get better and used to our system and to the players. I think he played really, really well for his first game.”
Goligoski also impressed his new coach with his first game in a Stars’ uniform.
“I can see where he’s going to really help,” coach Marc Crawford said. “Anyone that can skate as good as he does, he’s an effortless skater. It looks like he doesn’t get tired, so we’ll be able to ramp up minutes for him and give him lots of opportunity. He’s got the ability to play both the left side and the right side. I think he showed us tonight, when he didn’t take penalties, that he can kill penalties, too. That’s one of his first forays into that. Lots of good things from him. We were pretty pleased with what we saw from him tonight.”
That is one of the things Goligoski is looking forward to with his new team, the chance to take on a bigger role. In Pittsburgh, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound native of Grand Rapids, MN averaged 20:45 of ice time per game, which was just fifth-most among Penguin defensemen. But here, he’ll get more of an opportunity to play in all situations, which, as Crawford noted, includes the penalty kill unit.
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” said Goligoski, who was originally the Penguins’ second-round selection (61st overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. “I just want to come in and play well and trust the coaches and respect my teammates. That’s what I plan on doing.”
A smooth-skating, smart defenseman with an offensive slant, Goligoski did not come cheap, costing the Stars third-year winger James Neal and 24-year-old defenseman Matt Niskanen, but what he brings to the table for the Stars will probably have more of an impact on the club’s fortunes than the guys they had to give up, because it addresses a specific need.
“Obviously, we felt that we had to give up some assets in order to acquire a guy that our team needed,” Crawford said. “Defense is usually the hallmark of any good team. If you can play well in the defensive zone, then you’ve got a chance each and every night. We think we’ve got the goaltending that gives us the quality that we need to win consistently in the NHL and we’ve now set out to improving the defensive corps.”
“I think it’s a great acquisition,” Robidas said. “You look at what he’s done in the last couple of years with Pittsburgh, I’ve had the chance to see him play. 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. It’s going to help our blue line and obviously, you lose two pretty good guys in the room, two good players that have done a lot for this organization, but if you want to get a good player, you have to give up something. That’s what happens in trades - if you want to get a good player, you’ve got to be willing to give up something and that was the price to pay. I think it will be good down the line for us.”
And Goligoski’s offensive prowess, which has seen him compile nine goals and 31 points in 60 games for Pittsburgh so far this year, was a big reason the Stars coveted him.
“He’s a guy that can play the power play, he’s very good at bringing the puck up,” Crawford said. “He’s very good at the offensive side of the game, the way he joins the attack, all those sorts of things - not only suited just for power play but also for the way we want to play as a hockey club. I think that second wave of attack, my belief is that’s the most difficult one to defend against and when you have more guys that give you an option to use that, then I think you become more dangerous.”
Right away, he becomes the Stars’ top scorer among defensemen (topping Robidas’ 26 points) and ties Loui Eriksson
for the lead with four game-winning goals. But one other stat jumps out, too. He now tops the club with a stellar + 20 plus/minus, which also topped the Penguins, and that is further evidence as to his proficiency in both the offensive and defensive zones.
“We think he’s good at both ends of the ice,” Crawford stressed. “He’s going to get more of an opportunity in defensive situations that maybe he wasn’t utilized in before. It’s funny, people say, ‘Oh, he’ll really help our offense,’ but we’re hoping that, as his game keeps progressing, he’s going to help us in both sides of the equation.”
“I never really go out there looking to jump up in the play,” said Goligoski, who wore jersey number 3 in Pittsburgh, but took 33 in Dallas since Robidas already wears 3. “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.”
Where exactly Goligoski will end up fitting in to the Stars’ defense pairings remains to be seen, since Robidas’ usual partner, Nicklas Grossman, remains sidelined with a lower body injury. But regardless of who he skates next to most of the time, Goligoski will be an important contributor to the Stars fortunes down the stretch, both with his performance, and by lessening the load some of the other blueliners have been shouldering lately.
“We’re still missing Nick Grossman right now, and Nick Grossman is a big part of our defensive corps,” Crawford pointed out. “So with that in mind, I’m not ultimately sure where he’ll shake out, whether he’ll continue to play with Robidas, which looked really good tonight, and give us a solid player that plays big, big minutes or whether we play him with one of our other defensemen.
“I think any time you add a piece like an Alex Goligoski
, a guy that is a top-four defenseman, it puts everybody else in the right spots. It now gives us a bona fide group that we feel can handle the top players in the NHL and some of the players who we’ve been pushing up and asking to play maybe bigger minutes, now they get put down into a position where I think they’re better suited at playing. Alex Goligoski
will be a big minute man for us, he’ll be a guy that can play in a top-four setting. I think he’ll be a nice complement to Daley and to Robidas, and when we get Grossman back as well. And I think for the other guys in our lineup, Fistric, Woywitka and Skrastins, they maybe won’t have quite as much of a burden as they’ve had in the past number of games.”
Besides his strong ability on the ice, Goligoski also brings with him the intangible of being a winner. Even though he’s still in just his third full NHL season, Goligoski has already helped Pittsburgh win a Stanley Cup (in 2009), has played in the AHL’s Calder Cup Finals with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (in 2008), and even won a WCHA conference championship in college with the University of Minnesota (in 2007). That bounty of winning experience should not be under-estimated.
“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. When the big games get here, he’s been through all those, so that will help with settling down our back end.”
For the Stars, those big games are starting already, as the club is in the midst of a life-and-death struggle to make the playoffs. The loss to New Jersey left them 1-8-1 since the All-Star break and clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference standings, just two points up on 12th-place Columbus. The time for Goligoski to help make a difference is now, starting with the Stars’ next matchup with Detroit Thursday night (6:30 pm, FSSW).
“We’re in a grind right now, we’re battling for a playoff spot, so we’re all focusing on hockey and I think that’s going to help Alex a lot,” Morrow said.
“We’re out there battling and you can tell the guys want to win,” added Goligoski.“I think going into Detroit is as good an opportunity as ever to get a good win against a good team in their building, in a tough atmosphere. Those are the kind of things that gets teams going, so I’m looking forward to the opportunity to go in there and win.”
It sounds like he’ll fit in just fine.