One of the more eye-opening developments of training camp and the 2007 pre-season for the Dallas Stars, along with the impressive play of youngsters Chris Conner and Matt Niskanen, was the offensive ability displayed by rugged defenseman Stephane Robidas
Better known as a gritty, defensive stalwart, Robidas compiled two goals and five points, tied for fourth on the club, in six exhibition games, while also adding a spectacular shootout goal that beat the Coyotes on Sept. 27.
With the Stars looking for ways to generate more goals this season, Robidas seems like the perfect candidate to step up and provide some additional production.
“That’s something that maybe I feel a little more confident this year that I can do it,” Robidas said. “I’m not going to replace Sergei Zubov or Philippe Boucher, I’m not going to go all-offense or anything like that, but if I can provide a little bit of offense for the team... Last year, it was something that we had problems, we didn’t score a lot of goals, and I think that I’m one of the guys that can step up and help the team and maybe provide a little more offense.”
Despite going all of last season without tallying a single goal, Robidas, 30, has continued to develop and become more comfortable with his defensive game, and as he’s earned more ice time, the more his role has expanded.
“It can’t be worse than last year,” he laughed. “It never happened to me before, but it’s in the past. That season, for me, it’s over.”
Robidas averaged 18:04 of ice time last year, and did see regular second-duty action on the power play unit, registering a career-high 17 assists (11 on the PP) while improving his all-around game to the extent that he was considered one of the club’s shut-down defenders.
He also led the club (and tied for 16th in the entire NHL) with an impressive 197 hits and finished fifth on the Stars with 76 blocked shots. After such an outstanding performance, Robidas entered 2007-08 brimming with confidence and it showed in the pre-season.
“I’m just trying to be more ready, if I get a chance to jump into a play, if I get a chance to shoot the puck, a chance to make a good play offensively, I’ve got to make those plays,” Robidas said. “I know I can make it. That doesn’t mean taking any chance, but when the play is there and that’s the right read, that’s something that I need to do.
“It’s all about confidence, and it’s all about good reads, and I think it’s just jumping into the play at the right time, when the situation’s there. It always depends who you’re with on the ice, who’s against you on the ice and all those situations, but that’s something that’s all about confidence. I know I can do it and that’s something that I want to prove this year.”
His teammates have noticed Robidas’ renewed level of self-assurance, and they like what they see.
“I think all of it has to do with confidence,” noted captain Brenden Morrow
. “In pre-season, put in different situations, playing on the power play, it goes for him as well as a lot of the younger guys here, confidence is such a big part of the game. I think it had been a couple of years since he scored a goal, and he had three of them in pre-season (including the shootout winner). That probably lightened the load on him a little bit and he can go out and play a little more relaxed and all those goals from the role player-type people are such a big lift for our team.”
“He’s a good passer and skater, and can really jump into the play,” added Boucher, who tied a Stars franchise record for defensemen last season with 19 goals. “The one thing he’s shown this year is his shot. He’s got a really good shot, a quick release.”
But in addition to gaining that self-confidence, both in his ability to jump into the play and also to unleash his deadly-accurate shot more often, it’s clear that the 5-foot-11, 190-pound native of Sherbrooke, Quebec has always had the skill to help generate scoring chances. In his last two years of junior hockey with Shawinigan of the QMJHL, Robidas compiled at least 23 goals and 75 points in each season.
Even in three years apprenticing in the AHL, Robidas posted seasons of 10, eight and 14 goals while surpassing 40 points twice. But upon reaching the NHL with the Canadiens in 2000, Robidas focused his attention more towards improving his defensive play, while sacrificing some of the offense.
“I’ve always been known for being an offensive defenseman in junior and the American League, but when I came to the NHL, I had to change my role a little bit,” Robidas recounted. “To make the team, I had to play a different kind of game, I had to be a little more aggressive, don’t take any chances offensively and make sure I was playing more defensively - that was my job. They didn’t really ask me to put up numbers and I was just trying to do my job and help the team as much as I could.”
After finally establishing himself as a solid impact defender in Dallas in second half of the 2005-06 season in Dallas, while netting five goals and a career-high 20 points, Robidas figured to light the lamp at least a few times last year.
But as the season progressed and the goose-egg continued to sit next to his name on the stat sheet, it started to bug Robidas more and more. He ended up firing 106 shots on goal in 75 regular season games and another 17 in seven playoff outings, but none went in.
“I would say, mid-December, I was thinking about scoring that one goal,” Robidas admitted. “I was seeing guys coming up from the minors and getting one, and I had over 100 shots on goal. That’s something that bothered me last year a little bit, even though I’m not here to score goals and that’s not what the team asks me for. They ask me to play well defensively and be physical and be that role player. But last year, not having a lot of offense, I’m one of the guys that could maybe help the team a little more in that department, and that’s something I’m going to look forward to. If I can chip in a little bit, it’s just going to be good for the team a little bit.”
Any offensive contribution from Robidas will be an improvement over last season, but there’s little doubt that his goalless drought, which, after going scoreless in this season's first three games, has reached 90 consecutive games that count, will end soon.
Beyond that, though, the more Robidas can chip in on the power play and in even-strength situations, the better off the Stars will be this season, and he’s already proven he can do it.