Happy to stay in Dallas, Souray filling important role
Monday, 03.05.2012 / 11:47 AM / News
By John Tranchina
There were a lot of rumors leading into trade deadline day last Monday that suggested Sheldon Souray, who will be an unrestricted free agent next July, would be one of the players dealt, but in the end, Dallas Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk opted to refrain from making any moves and kept the current group intact.
|Sheldon Souray Highlights|
Souray himself was relieved to make it through the trade deadline, particularly because he believes that the group as assembled, which has rolled to a 7-1-2 record over the last ten games, can really do some damage down the stretch.
“It’s great,” said Souray of remaining a Star. “I love these guys here, we got a great team, a great chemistry in the room, we got a bunch of really good guys and we’re looking forward to moving this thing forward here over the next month and a half, trying to accomplish a goal that we all have. We’re all in this together with the guys we have. We’re glad we kept our group because we deserve a chance to show how much we care, and we’re going to do that. We’re going to accomplish our goals, we’re going to win more than we lose, playing as hard as we have the last few games.”
Underlining just how much he enjoys his current situation, Souray brushed off the steady diet of booing he received from the crowd Friday night in Edmonton, where he endured some difficult times before the Oilers bought out the final year of his contract last summer.
“I’m so disconnected from it, they make a big deal about it there, but everyone knows how happy I am in Dallas and that we have a chance to do something special,” shrugged Souray, who spent three years there before the Oilers demoted him to the AHL last season.
And although he didn’t show up on the scoresheet, Souray, a native of nearby Elk Point, Alberta, played a solid game, firing two shots on goal and registering a + 2 plus/minus rating, as the Stars started a three-game road trip on the right foot, with a 3-1 win that lifted them into a tie for seventh place in the Western Conference standings.
“It was an important game for us to come out and establish ourselves on this road trip,” said the 12-year veteran, minimizing any personal feelings of revenge he might have felt with the W. “We’re in a dog fight. It sounds like a broken record, but we’re looking at the standings every night and we’re trying to take care of our own business. We needed this win.”
That’s all ancient history now, anyway, as the 6-foot-4, 237-pound Souray has bounced back with a strong season in Dallas after signing a one-year deal worth $1.6 million last July with the Stars.
With six goals and 20 points through 53 games played, the man known affectionately to his teammates as ‘Hammer’ because of his cannon of a slap shot, has been a big boost to the Stars at both ends of the ice.
In addition to his strong offensive numbers, Souray has also registered an outstanding +16 plus/minus rating, which leads all Dallas blueliners and is third on the team overall, one back of wingers Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder. Also indicative of his importance to the club, Souray has logged an average of 20:30 of ice time per game, while also blocking 76 shots, each ranking fourth on the squad.
Recently, Souray has been skating alongside fellow veteran Stephane Robidas on the club’s shutdown pair. His play in the defensive zone seems to have been ratcheted up a notch, especially since returning from a seven-game absence on Feb. 23 due to a foot injury. For the most part, the duo has been facing the opposition’s top offensive forwards and their performance has been crucial to shutting down such key scorers as Vancouver’s Sedin twins (in a 3-2 OT win Feb. 26) and Pittsburgh’s dynamic duo of Evgeni Malkin and James Neal (in the 4-3 shootout loss last Wednesday).
“Lately, we’ve had more of a focus on defense and trying to play strong defense against the top lines, so it’s good, it’s a good responsibility,” said Souray, who also sits third on the Stars with 63 penalty minutes. “I think we’re made for that, we take a lot of pride in that. We got some good defensive guys and we want to make sure we’re playing hard against those guys and limiting their opportunities, and just be hard on them. You ask our top guys, they play against D pairs that are hard on them and it makes for a long night, so we’re just trying to be responsible and hard on those guys and not give up too much.”
“We have to focus on playing good D first,” added Robidas. “That’s the main thing, play really well in our own zone and make sure we don’t give the other team opportunities going the other way. That’s the main thing for us as a group, make sure we play a solid game defensively.”
It was a defensive play he made Feb. 24 against Minnesota that contributed significantly to their 4-1 win that night. Just 42 seconds after the Stars went up 1-0 midway through the first period, the Wild nearly tied it as Devin Setoguchi’s deflection in front popped up and over goaltender Kari Lehtonen, but Souray, standing next to the net, managed to knock the puck out of the air at the goal line to save a sure goal.
Dallas would go on to build a 2-0 lead before the end of the first period, then went up 3-0 early in the second en route to a crucial victory that could have gone the other way if that goal had gone in for Minnesota.
“I just happened to be on the side of the net there and in decent position to try and knock that down,” Souray said, downplaying what could have been a turning point in the game. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it goes in. That’s the game, right? You get a break here or there. It matters - every little detail of the game right now seems to be mattering for us and we’ve been paying a lot more attention to that.”
A key part of Souray’s effectiveness in the defensive zone is his ability to make life difficult for opposing forwards with his physical play, particularly with his liberal use of his stick in front of his own net.
“Just making sure they’re not getting easy routes to the net or standing in front of the net for free tips and setting up a tent around there,” said Souray of his objective in his own zone. “You got to make sure they’re not too eager to take that puck to the net. As a big body, you just want to be strong, maybe have them take a little longer route to the net. And Robi’s a real physical player, he’s a little ball of hate out there. We’ve done this before and we’re comfortable doing it and we take pride in it.”
And while his offensive numbers have been fairly streaky this season, Souray has contributed in those other ways whenever he wasn’t putting up points. After amassing 13 points (four goals, nine assists) through the season’s first 14 contests, Souray cooled off considerably as opponents began working to prevent him from unleashing his lethal slap shot. He went pointless over the next 16 games and later went 13 contests with just two points (one goal, one assist) leading up to his foot injury on Feb. 9.
“Guys started certainly keying on him here,” Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. “A lot of those points Hammer generated from the back end and guys keyed on him, but we talked to him about a few things that helped him get his shots through and get away from some of that pressure.”
“We’ve concentrated a little less on our offense,” Souray said during part of the dry spell. “That said, we can still contribute and I think that comes with following the play in and not being selective when we shoot, just getting pucks through. You never want to have the forwards do a lot of hard work, get it back to the D and hit shin pads and it’s coming back your way. It’s a trust thing, it’s a two-way street, the forwards are getting pucks to us a little more often now and I think it’s because we’re getting pucks through. We want to get offense from the back end as much as we can.”
Since returning from his injury, Souray has been having an impact at both ends of the ice, earning one goal and one assist, as well as posting a +5, in the five games since coming back into the lineup.
“I think with every game you just get a little more comfortable,” Souray said of his performance since his return. “It wasn’t any fun sitting out, you just want to get in there and be a part of it.”
Additionally, with captain Brenden Morrow on Injured Reserve and top center Jamie Benn in the midst of a six-game absence due to a leg laceration when he returned, Souray provided a calm, veteran leadership presence in the dressing room.
“He has been a force and he’s been a guy in the locker room that took charge and we needed that with the absence of Brenden Morrow and Jamie Benn,” Gulutzan said. “He’s been a real positive guy for our group right from Day One until now.”
As an important piece of the Stars’ puzzle, Souray has just one focus - helping his club win games and make the playoffs, and he’s been encouraged by the squad’s recent hot streak.
“We’ve been talking about it, we want to make sure we’re supporting each other, not just leaving each other on an island,” said Souray, who was originally New Jersey’s third-round choice (71st overall) in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. “We want to make sure we have strength in numbers and we’ve done a lot better job in supporting one another and making simple plays and almost being a little more predictable than we were in the past, and that’s served us well.
“We’ve been paying a lot more attention to the smaller details in our game and it’s showing up that the end result is the by-product of doing all the little things. Every five or 10 percent a guy can give right now, we need it because we’re in a pretty good battle to get where we want to go.”