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Petersen raising level of play lately for Stars

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

One significant bright spot during the Dallas Stars’ recent rough stretch has been the play of center Toby Petersen.

While the Stars struggled to a 1-6-0 record over a seven-game span before their dramatic shootout victory over Detroit Saturday afternoon, Petersen has been playing his best hockey of the season. 

He may not get on the scoresheet every night, but the 31-year-old jack-of-all-trades forward is strong at both ends of the ice and contributes in many different areas for the Stars. Still, he does have two goals and a stellar +4 plus/minus rating over the last five games, following a 17-game point drought. 

He also had a golden opportunity to score the go-ahead goal in the third period Saturday, when he found himself alone in front of the Red Wings net, but his backhander towards an open net was stopped only by a desperate, diving block by Detroit defender Brett Lebda.

Over this recent span, he has also received more ice time than he has all year, which demonstrates how much the coaching staff trusts him and recognizes his recent improvement. 

“I think that Toby’s been one of our four or five best players here in the last little while,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “He’s a good player because he works and he’s also a good player because he’s smart.  Positionally, he’s terrific. That combination, of being smart and working hard, is pretty powerful and he’s got a little skill to go with it, too.” 

Of course, the humble Petersen noted that he hasn’t been doing anything differently lately. 

“Maybe the confidence is coming a little bit more,” Petersen acknowledged, “and that sort of thing just sort of cannonballs when you have one good game, it sort of leads into the next and helps you with puck protection and handling the puck and making good, patient plays, but other than that, the effort’s been the same all year. Unfortunately, it’s kind of coincided with a little bit of a tough streak here for the team, so obviously, we do whatever we can on a personal level and on a team level - we’re all trying to do what we can just to get things going in the right direction and (Saturday) was a good step.”

Petersen’s confidence has grown in part due to his increased ice time, including a season-high 21:13 on Saturday, and that in turn has helped boost his performance, and it’s been an ongoing cycle for the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Minneapolis native. Over the last five contests, he’s averaged 12:18 of ice time, a significant jump from his overall season average of 10:33.  Not bad for a guy who’s been a healthy scratch four times this year. 

Typically, Petersen downplayed the significance of his inflated ice time totals.

“I think any time the team’s struggling a little bit, everyone’s going to get more ice time as they try to shake lines up a little bit to get everyone going,” said Petersen, whose +1 plus/minus rating for the season ranked tied for second among forwards on the squad. “So that’s what’s going on there. We got a couple of injuries and who knows where that will take us. You take the minutes you’re given and just try to do the most with them, that’s my philosophy.”

With Crawford’s recent line juggling, Petersen has skated alongside different linemates almost every game, but has not missed a beat through it all.

“Maybe in amateur hockey (that would bother you), but we’re all professionals, everyone who’s played a couple of years now knows that’s part of the game,” remarked Petersen, whose 21 blocked shots were fourth among Dallas forwards. “You’re constantly switching things up, whether it’s because of injuries or chemistry or whatever. You’re always switching things up so you got to be ready to play with anyone.”

Petersen has been and that versatility is one of his strongest assets, along with his ability to be deployed in almost any situation and still get the job done. It’s a skill that has not gone unnoticed.

“I think Petey is a do-it-all player, he can jump in any situation, right wing, center, left wing,” noted occasional linemate Steve Ott. “Defensive responsibility, he’s very accountable and I think that makes him easy to put out there and easy to play. You always see him blocking shots, sacrificing himself and for a guy that can play fourth line, first line, all over, we need guys like that and Petey’s been instrumental.”

“He’s versatile, can play center, can play the wing, either wing, can kill penalties for us,” Crawford added. “So there’s a lot that he can do and we’re really appreciative of the commitment that he’s shown. And right now, he’s one of those guys that’s getting it done for us.”

Petersen’s proficiency as the club’s primary utility man is reminiscent of former Star forward and current assistant coach Stu Barnes, and Ott recognizes the similarities. 

“He is a very Stu Barnes-esque player, very similar, a glue guy that makes guys better around him when they’re on his line,” Ott agreed. “There’s not too many guys that can play every situation, and he’s one of those guys with great hands, great vision, and he sacrifices himself, so it’s easy to play a guy like that.”

Through it all, despite the periodic seat in the press box earlier in the year, Petersen has remained upbeat and kept working as hard as he could, which is another testament to his top-notch character. He’s just trying to make the most of his opportunities, whenever they present themselves.

“Just stay positive,” he said of his mindset all season. “Just take whatever minutes you’re given and run with it, try to do the best you can with it and hope that leads to more minutes and better things for the team. That’s kind of where I’m at right now.”

If the rest of the team follows suit, there’s no question they’ll work their way out of their recent struggles in no time.   

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