It's the best time of year!
On Saturday night in Nashville, Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski scored a power play goal and logged almost 32 minutes of ice-time. Everyone is aware of his offensive skill, but the amount of minutes may surprise most people. But not Goligoski, and not the people that surround him.
The team’s deadline pickup has relished the new opportunity and seeing his role increase with the Stars.
“It’s an opportunity I definitely looked forward to,” Goligoski said of coming to Dallas. “I get some more minutes here in different situations. In that sense, it was exciting coming here and it’s been great.”
In 15 games with Dallas, Goligoski has been a perfect fit, filling the Stars' desperate need of a puck-moving defenseman. His 11 points are one thing, but he is starting to raise Coach Marc Crawford’s eyebrows with his defensive play.
“We knew coming in that he was very good (offensively),” Crawford said, “Now he’s getting a chance to show how good he is on the other side of the ice, too. (In Pittsburgh) he didn’t get as much opportunity to play on the penalty kill, as much opportunity to play against top players. Now he’s getting that opportunity with us.”
With the Stars, the team has leaned on Goligoski heavily as he has averaged 26:35 of ice-time (almost six more minutes than his average in Pittsburgh). However, the 25-year-old doesn’t think the increased amount of minutes has affected his play at all.
“Once you get into the flow of the game,” he said, “you don’t really notice the minutes too much – you just go out there and play. It’s not too much of an adjustment.”
Crawford feels his skating ability is a big reason why Goligoski is able to log a lot of minutes. “He’s one of those guys that can skate all day. The efficiency of his skating allows him to play those extra minutes.
Crawford continued: “I talked to (Penguins coach) Dan Bylsma right after we got him and he told me exactly that. He said ‘Marc, he can skate all day.’ My eyes were lighting up with all of the great things he was saying. It’s proven to be very true.”
When Goligoski was acquired on Feb. 21, the Stars were in the middle of their worst funk of the year, going 1-7-1 in nine previous games and seeing their once-tight grip on the Pacific Division drift away. They responded by going 6-1-2 in the nine games after the trade, and his blueline partner doesn’t think that was a coincidence.
“It wasn’t a coincidence to me,” Stephane Robidas said. “He really brought a new dimension to this team. He brought a lot of confidence to our team. He brought the ability to get the puck out of our zone quick. He opens up other plays and he’s been really good at that.”
With another goal to his credit, Goligoski has now scored in three straight games. His teammates couldn’t stop praising his offensive skill and puck-moving abilities.
“I didn’t realize how smooth and how great he was with the puck,” said Brad Richards. “That can help so much, because it’s like playing against a Dan Boyle or Duncan Keith; those guys can break a forecheck. As forwards, you really love that because sometimes you’ll get the puck in full speed, and that creates more offense.”
“We didn’t really have that quarterback back there,” Robidas said, “that could really move the puck and be really effective in transition. Those little things, making plays offensively – we didn’t have that since (Sergei) Zubov was here. It’s pretty big for us to have a guy like him in our lineup.”
Robidas is one player that has been positively affected by Goligoski’s presence; with the trade, it enabled the rest of the defense to play in more of their natural roles. Since Zubov’s retirement, Robidas carried a lot of the blueline’s offensive load over the last couple years, which really isn’t his niche.
When the trade was made, a good majority of fans and pundits (including yours truly) felt it was an ‘overpayment’ by Dallas, trading James Neal and Matt Niskanen for Goligoski. In the first month, it has been the opposite. Goligoski is thriving in Big D, while Neal is struggling to produce with the Penguins.
“Ideally, you could have both James and Alex,” Richards said of the trade. “James was a big part of this team for two years; but to get a player like Alex, unless it’s free agency, you’re going to have to give up another good player.”
Goligoski, who had 31 points in 60 games with Pittsburgh this year, is making GM Joe Nieuwendyk and his staff look smart thus far. The team is hoping the Minnesota native can continue to play well on both ends of the ice – not just in this current playoff chase, but down the road well. He is under contract through next year; and if he keeps up his success, you can bet Nieuwendyk would like to lock him up for the future.
“It is fun,” Goligoski said of his new stomping grounds. “Every game is like a playoff game right now. For the most part, the team’s been playing pretty good. It’s been a great experience so far.”
Photo credit: Getty Images
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