"It' always exciting to play here," Stars head coach Marc Crawford said Monday following the Stars' morning skate before their encounter with Toronto (6 p.m., FSSW). "Teams come in here and are ready to play. There are a lot of players from the Ontario area, and it's always exciting for them. It's not lost on our guys…they want to play well here."
James Neal certainly did just that two years ago the last time the Stars visited Toronto. A native of Whitby, which is about a half-hour away, Neal collected his first career hat trick in Dallas' 8-2 romp over the Maple Leafs in Dec. 2008.
"Growing up a Leaf fan it's a dream come true to play against the Leafs," Neal said. "It's exciting coming back and being able to do that. Obviously the first time I came back it was a big thrill and exciting. With hockey being so big in Canada, when you go to a Canadian city there's always a bit of a buzz, and especially here in Toronto. You grow up having dreams of being an NHL hockey player, and when you're able to do that and then come back to where you grew up and play, it's awesome."
The Stars have plenty of ties to the city along the shores of Lake Ontario. Defenseman Trevor Daley
and forwards Krystofer Barch and Steve Ott
are also from the area, backup goalie Andrew Raycroft played for the Maple Leafs for two years starting in 2006, and Crawford coached Toronto's AHL affiliate in St. John's from 1991-94.
"You come into the dressing room and the Tragically Hip is playing, and you get to play before a crowd that has a lot of your friends and family," Ott said. "It's always fun playing Toronto, no matter how they are doing."
This season, the Maple Leafs aren't doing that well. They're currently last in the Northeast Division -- and 13th overall in the Eastern Conference -- and have just two wins in their last 11 games.
Dallas, meanwhile, comes in with a sparkling 5-1 mark versus Eastern Conference foes.
Turning around road woes
The road hasn't been kind to the Stars early on, as they've managed just three wins in seven games away from American Airlines Center. They begin a stretch in which they play four of their next five on the road, including Wednesday's tilt up the road in Ottawa.
For Crawford, there's no time like the present to reverse some of their road misfortune.
"We've lost three in a row on the road, so we've got to find a way to win on the road," he said. "It's the simple tasks that you have to do well when you play on the road. You have to advance the puck, and you can't turn the puck over. If you protect the puck and put it in the right place, you give yourself the best chance to be successful on the road. At home maybe you can build on some excitement and enthusiasm that happens with your crowd, but on the road you have to do things by the book and make sure you're committed to making smart plays."
Ribeiro defies critics, makes it to 600
There weren't too many people that thought Mike Ribeiro
would be around long enough play even one game in the NHL after the Montreal Canadiens drafted the slender forward in 1998. The playmaking center wasn't one of them.
When Ribeiro steps onto the Air Canada ice Monday he'll be making his 600th career appearance in an NHL game. It's an accomplishment that brought a big smile to the slick center's face hours before the event.
"Who would have thought it," he chuckled. "It means a lot. You look back and 10 years ago nobody really gave me a chance, from the media to all different people around. To be here now, it makes me feel good about it. It's a lot of games, and hopefully I'll have a few more to go."
After tearing up the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League by recording 125 goals and a whopping 341 points in 159 games in just over a two-year span, Ribeiro was seen as a player that would be too small to play in the NHL. But the native of Montreal never believed anything that was said or written, and has thrived since coming to Dallas in 2006.
"The reason why I've played this many games is because I believed in myself and believed what I could do and that I could play in this league," he said. "I've been able to play with great players, and it's been a nice ride."
It was a bumpy ride, though, for Ribeiro to start this season, as he failed to score over the first 16 games of the year. But he finally broke out in grand fashion in Dallas 5-4 overtime win over San Jose on Thursday, scoring the tying goal with just over two minutes to go in regulation, than netting the winner in OT.
"It was tough," he said. "I've had streaks similar to that, but I'd have them in the middle of the season, like from game 40 to game 55, and no one really sees it," he said. "I think the first 10 games I had open nets, posts and cross bars, and a lot of chances to score. The last five or six, I would have maybe one shot on net, or two shots, so it was getting to me. It couldn't have come at a better time."
During the drought, Crawford tried to stay positive with his pivot man, and knew eventually the goal would come.
"One day I talked to him and said, 'Mike, if we would have told you that you'd be in the top 40 scorers in the league and have 14 points at this point of the season, you'd be pretty happy,'" Crawford said. "It just worked that they were all assists at the time. But players are human and they want to feel that they are contributing, and for so many players the biggest contribution they feel that they make is if they score. You could see the weight of the world come off his shoulders when he scored the other night, and it's great for us."