On the face of it, it might not seem like the addition of two wingers who play on the third and fourth lines should have that much of an impact on their team’s fortunes, but Adam Burish
and Krys Barch are not your usual players.
Both Dallas Stars forwards suffered orbital bone fractures in fights on Feb. 3 in a 6-3 loss to Boston, and there’s no question something was missing without them in the lineup.
In the eight games that they sat out, the Stars struggled to a 1-6-1 record, and it’s not such a coincidence that in their first game back Thursday night, with each wearing full face shields, Dallas snapped a five-game losing streak with a 4-1 triumph in Detroit. They then made it two in a row with a gutsy, come-from-behind 3-2 victory over Nashville Saturday afternoon.
Obviously, there were a number of contributing factors to the Stars’ slide and also to their recent performances that seems to have put them back on the right track. But there’s no denying the spark that the 28-year-old Burish and the 30-year-old Barch helped ignite the last two games since coming back.
Barch even scored a crucial goal in the Detroit contest, just his second of the season and 11th of his 243-game career, lifting Dallas into a 3-0 lead at 8:54 of the second period. And Burish had an important hand in Alex Goligoski
’s third-period game-tying goal that swung momentum the Stars way and led to their win over the Predators Saturday. He has also had a positive impact on the penalty killing unit.
“(Their impact) was large, if for nothing else, just for the enthusiasm that they brought to the bench,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “I think our guys appreciate they’re both playing with full face masks. You know they can’t be feeling 100 percent. To have gone through what they’ve gone through, with the operations that they’ve had and the pain they’ve had to endure, that’s uplifting for our group. And I thought they both gave us spirited effort and when you have Krys Barch scoring a goal - he doesn’t score a lot - that’s a huge boost for your team.”
The energy and emotion they helped inspire was clearly palpable and their teammates certainly fed off it.
“I think the majority of our strength (Thursday) night was because of what they brought to the table,” noted agitating forward Steve Ott
. “Barchie brought much-needed energy, just a physical presence with a great voice in the dressing room, and he scores a gigantic goal for us that obviously capped off the game. And Bur, he’s so valuable on the penalty kill, playing hard minutes and playing checking-role minutes. Having those guys back in the lineup just makes us more of a complete team.”
“We had two of our more vocal guys back,” added fourth-line forward Toby Petersen
, who missed 16 games himself with a leg injury before returning six games ago on Feb. 15. “Otter’s been there the whole time, but Burish and Barch, those guys are some vocal guys and it’s good to get the rah-rah guys back in the mix.”
The players themselves downplayed any notion that they were responsible for the club’s turnaround, although each acknowledged they were highly eager to get back on the ice.
“I have no idea what we did in terms of coming in,” shrugged Barch, who despite playing just 34 games this season, ranks third on the squad in penalty minutes with 80 - trailing just Burish’s 91 and Ott’s 143. “Everybody pulled together, it was a collective effort. It’s tough sitting at home and watching it on TV, halfway across the country and they’re going through things that you want to be there with them to go through. Win or lose, we’re like a family and it’s like your brother out there and you don’t want your brother suffering and you’re sitting at home.”
“For me, I had so much energy built up, I just hoped that I could give that to some of the guys and be a positive voice on the bench,” said Burish, in his first year with the Stars after leaving the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks as a free agent last summer. “Just be encouraging and just get that positive attitude back - because it wasn’t here, especially the two days before the game when I was around the guys again. There just wasn’t that excitement around here that you need to have to win hockey games at this time of the year. So I just wanted to bring some of that, bring some life, bring some energy.”
Besides the leadership they provide in the dressing room, how can players outside the core skill guys have that much of an impact? One key reason is that when they were out of the lineup, other players not quite as well-suited to their roles inherited those minutes, and then other guys from further down the depth chart moved up the ladder. With multiple injuries piling up for a stretch of games, some players took three or four or five of those steps up and at some point, there’s inevitably going to be a bit of a drop-off, in a cumulative way. So getting them back allows everyone else to slip back into roles that they’re more used to and better prepared for.
“It’s hard to say exactly how those games would have gone without us, but being here for just a handful of games, I know seeing Burish and Barch back in the lineup helped, getting a set of fresh legs,” Petersen noted. “It takes some of the pressure, or some of the difficulty of playing so many hard minutes, off some of the other players, especially getting Burish back - all of a sudden we have another penalty killer, which means that (Mike Ribeiro
) and Brenden (Morrow) and those guys don’t have to do as much penalty killing, which means they can focus more on the offensive side of it. In that regard, I think it’s a big help getting the fresh bodies back in the lineup.”
“You try to battle through the injuries, you try to work and battle through it,” Ott added, “but we’ve been proud of everybody being role players and doing what they have to do during the season and it’s fit well. I think that’s the main reason, when we have everybody going in their roles, we’re a great team.”
As Petersen pointed out, Burish’s influence on the Stars’ penalty killing unit was also evident over the last two games, as the club killed off the first five Detroit power plays Thursday before surrendering one late once the game was already out of reach, and then nullifying all three on Saturday. That 89 percent kill rate was a nice upgrade from the PK unit’s 21-for-28 performance (75 percent) over the eight games Burish was out.
“He’s a big part of the penalty kill, he’s a guy that blocks a lot of shots, gets in shooting lanes,” said assistant coach Charlie Huddy, who works with the penalty kill group. “He’s just a guy with a lot of experience that you always need on the penalty kill. Any time you go to the Stanley Cup Finals and you win, you gain a lot of experience in the room and just how things go, and especially on the ice, the different situations you’re in. And having to go out and kill a penalty in the Stanley Cup Finals, I think that definitely helps him, and I think it gives everybody else killing penalties a little bit of a boost, too.”
The fact that both players were hurt in fights and are now wearing full face shields (Barch the full-length visor, Burish the wire cage) and are still recovering, means they won’t be able to drop the gloves again for awhile. Still, both vowed that their physical style of play wouldn’t change.
“I’m not sure what the time frame is, but (the doctor) just said I shouldn’t fight,” Barch said. “I don’t have fighting in the back of my head that you always have to be prepared for, that’s always a part of the game for me, so I don’t have to spend some percentage of my mental capacity to look and see who is across the way. You just go out and play. I’m not going to change my game in terms of being gritty.”
“You kind of feel invincible with the thing over your face like that,” Burish admitted. “If anything, you could probably get your face in front of more pucks, killing penalties, get in there on face-offs more. To be honest, it’s more annoying and I’d rather have it off. I can’t wait to get it off. When it does, if anything, I’ll probably look forward to getting into another altercation. I’m not worried about it, it’s not something I’ll ever think about again. I’ve been hit in the face before lots of times and it’s something that comes with playing the game hard, fighting and hitting hard - you’re going to get smacked and it happens. It was my turn, I guess. ”
And even though the Stars are still missing leading scorer Brad Richards and top-pair defenseman Nicklas Grossman, having all the role players back has clearly made a significant difference, and it’s showing in the results.
“I think when we have our guys back again, we can get in that constant rotation where we can throw one line out after another,” Burish said, “and just keep coming with speed and pace and pretty much having our full lineup back, I think it helps a lot.”