Stars ready to rest, both mentally and physically, during All-Star Break
Thursday, 01.26.2012 / 3:29 PM / News
By John Tranchina
With the Dallas Stars heading into the All-Star Break on a high note following their gritty 1-0 win over Anaheim Tuesday night, the banged-up club welcomed the chance to get away from the game for a nice five-day stretch.
“That was huge,” said goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who made 27 saves Tuesday night to earn his first shutout of the season and 18th of his career, of securing a win heading into the break. “We talked about it a little before, we really wanted to give a good effort and give everything because there’s lots of time to rest now and enjoy our families.”
Center Jamie Benn, who has missed the last five games with an appendectomy, will be the only Star to participate in the All-Star festivities, which begin with the player draft Thursday night (7 pm, NBCSN - formerly Versus) and conclude with the All-Star Game itself on Sunday (3 pm start, NBC), while the rest of the squad is happy to have the time off to rest.
And with several players still nursing injuries, including Benn and captain Brenden Morrow (who missed Tuesday’s game with a nagging neck issue), among others, the break will enable the Stars heal up and come back stronger when the season resumes on Feb. 1 in Anaheim.
And it won’t just be the guys that have been out of the lineup who will benefit from the rest. Center Mike Ribeiro returned from a seven-game absence due to a knee injury Tuesday but he wasn’t close to 100 percent, so the time off will help him, not to mention several other players who have been battling through various minor ailments that haven’t been quite serious enough to keep them off the ice but have hindered them.
“I’ll just get a good rest and try to recover and rejuvenate and get ready for a big stretch in February,” noted defenseman Stephane Robidas, who missed six games with a foot injury in late December, but has continued to play through pain since returning to the lineup on Jan. 5.
“I got a couple little nagging injuries it’ll be nice to get rid of, so it couldn’t have come at a better time,” said winger Eric Nystrom of the break. “It’s good to get a couple of days off, for sure.”
A number of guys will be leaving the Metroplex during their time off, taking advantage of a rare opportunity to get away from hockey, and the club’s dogfight for a playoff spot in the ultra-competitive West, and just relax.
“I haven’t dared ask them all their plans,” said Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan, who added that he was not traveling anywhere. “I’m sure guys are going to be going where it’s warm and lay around.”
“I’m going away with the family, the whole family, we’re going away to the Bahamas,” Robidas revealed. “So I’ll spend some time with the kids and just enjoy ourselves.”
Others were pursuing more mundane excursions, but ones still very conducive to calming the body and soul.
“I’m just going to go back home to Wisconsin and see some family,” reported fourth-line forward Jake Dowell, who hails from Eau Claire, Wisc. “I haven’t been able to see some family in a while, so I’m just going back there. I think it was nice to get this win going into it and get a good feeling. We’ve been working with some guys hurt lately and it gives some guys who are dinged up still a chance to heal up a little bit and we can hit it hard when we get back.”
“Going back to sunny Minnesota,” laughed Grand Rapids, Minn. native Alex Goligoski, who scored the only goal in Tuesday’s win over Anaheim. “Just going to relax, get away from the game a little bit, it’s good to do that once in a while. The mental grind is probably more grueling than the physical one, so it’s good to get away. Some time away from the rink is going to be good for this crew.”
“I’m just going to rest for a couple of days, and maybe go somewhere for another couple of days,” added Lehtonen. “I haven’t really thought about it, it’s just to stay away from the rink. It’s been a long year and this is good, it’s kind of halfway and you get a rest and then you get to go to work again.”
Getting the mental break from the season is probably just as important, if not more so, than the physical rest that the All-Star Break provides.
“That’s huge to get away from the game a little bit,” Nystrom said. “Just have some fun and rest and not worry about the stress of the season, even though I’m still going to be worrying about the stress of the season.”
Gulutzan pointed out that he encouraged the players to get away and escape mentally from the grind of the playoff chase, but also emphasized that he expects them to return fired up and ready to roll when practice resumes at 2:00 pm next Monday, which is the first time teams are allowed to take the ice again, as mandated by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
“I told them, ‘Hey, take four days here and don’t think about the game,’” Gulutzan said. “But then come Sunday, let’s make sure that Monday’s not a complete ‘Oh, I got to practice today.’ Start thinking about it Sunday and make sure you’re prepared to practice Monday.”
And the Stars will need to rev things up quickly once the schedule resumes next Wednesday night, Feb. 1, in Anaheim (9:00 pm start, FSSW). Starting with their first two games back-to-back on the road against Pacific Division foes Anaheim and San Jose, the Stars face a difficult schedule in February.
Following the back-to-backs to open with, Dallas will also play three games in four nights right off the bat, then get two days off, and then have three games in four nights again, including back-to-back road contests. Overall in the 29 days of the month, the Stars will play 16 games, including four sets of back-to-backs and four sets of three-in-four-nights.
That stretch also features six crucial games against teams they are directly competing with for a playoff spot, facing both Minnesota and Phoenix twice, and one each against Calgary and Los Angeles.
“It’s a big stretch coming up for us and February’s going to be a big month for us,” Robidas said. “We’ll just have to bear down and we just have to keep climbing the hill.”
“We have a lot of games coming up and we’re focused,” Dowell confirmed. “I think our minds are in the right spot and guys are going to get a little break and I think we’ll be rejuvenated and be ready to go.”
Gulutzan acknowledged that the February slate of games will be important and that regardless of who is in uniform for the Stars, they need to put together complete team efforts in order to seize one of those post-season invitations.
“We’re in a battle for a playoff spot,” said Gulutzan. “You don’t know what’s going to happen long-term, but it only looks like possibly one or two spots are (up for grabs). We’re in a battle to get one of those spots and it’s going to be a telling month for us. We haven’t made any excuses for ourselves and we have no excuses coming back - we’ll be healthy, we’ll have Bennie and everyone back and rested and we have to make a run at it.
“The work ethic and the consistency of the game has to be a 60-minute game. We have to stay within what makes us successful for 60 minutes. We have to do that consistently, and know and believe that if we play to our systems and to our structure, that we can beat the Bostons and the Detroits of the world. We have to buy into that completely.”
As for his seemingly-boring plans for the break, Gulutzan noted that the time off will still be beneficial, because he will have some time to work with associate coach Willie Desjardins and assistant Paul Jerrard.
“I’m staying here. Maybe it’s just because I’m a first-year guy,” Gulutzan said. “We’ll have some work to do and Paulie and Willie and everyone are staying, so hopefully we can holiday in June.”