COMMENTARY | He's a grinder, sure, but every now and then Vernon Fiddler does everything he can to make sure he's the most noticeable player on the ice.
It happened for an extended stretch last season in March, when Fiddler and Alex Chiasson led the Stars on a surprise run, giving Stars fans hopes of a last-minute playoff berth, before the team folded meekly and went quietly onto the golf course while the NHL playoffs began.
Tuesday night, facing the Bruins in Boston, Vernon Fiddler once again stepped up and decided that, even though he only plays third or fourth line minutes, he can still carry a team. In fact, he only played ten minutes on the night, yet any scrum during the game, any big hit, for or against the Stars, any quality scoring chance, it seemed that number 38 was right in the middle of it. The Bruins hated him, ignoring Antoine Roussel, the Stars well-qualified pest, and instead targeting Fiddler for most of the night. Well, targeting anyone, 'cause it's Boston--well done Jamie Benn for not getting involved in fisticuffs with Zdeno Chara--but especially targeting Fiddler. And then, to cap his night, late in the game with the Stars down by one, Fiddler caught Boston on a bad line change and was hauled down on the ensuing breakaway. A checking line center, taking a penalty shot? Not the ideal. I was even wondering if we'd have been better off getting a powerplay opportunity for the final two minutes of the game. I needn't have worried. It was his night. He scored.
Game tied, into overtime, and the Stars win in a shootout.
Pat on the back for Vernon Fiddler, but really what that game showed to Stars fans is the importance of depth. The need for every player on the team to be capable of stepping up on a given night and being the hero. The need for goals to come, not just from the scoring lines, but from the checking lines, and from the defense as well. The importance of that was perhaps nowhere better illustrated than with the celebrations on the Stars bench when Fiddler scored on his penalty shot. Sheer, unmitigated joy.
Earlier in the season, about 8 games in, half of the Stars' goals had come from Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on the top line, and Alex Chiasson on the second. Now though, Chiasson's goal scoring has finally begun to taper off from the goal-per-game rate he began his career with. Surprise surprise. Meaning that the two biggest threats of the Stars are playing on the top line together, making matchup decisions quite easy on opposing coaches. That wealth has to be spread. And it's beginning to go that way. On Sunday afternoon, Ray Whitney, Valeri Nichushkin, and Antoine Roussel each scored their first goals of the season, leaving Sergei Gonchar as the only Stars regular who still hasn't found the back of the net.
It's getting better, but it's still not enough.
What might wind up making the difference though, is Nichushkin's improving play and his finally earning the long-expected first line minutes. Playing the Russian rookie on a top line with Seguin and Benn maintains the threat of that first line, while allowing Rich Peverley and Erik Cole, who have both skated on the top line this season and are capable of playing scoring roles, to shift down to the third line. With the one unbroken second line of Whitney, Chiasson, and Cody Eakin, this allows Dallas to roll three lines that are legitimate scoring threats, with Fiddler centering Peverley and Cole, and one hard-checking, fast-talking line consisting of the agitators Roussel and Ryan Garbutt, centered by Shawn Horcoff. And while Horcoff's production so far has been a disappointment, the veteran has showed himself capable of playing a more grinding, shutdown defensive role.
Nichushkin's move to the top line is a recent development, and so we'll have to see if it takes or if Lindy Ruff employs a more flexible attitude towards line juggling. It does though make the Stars more versatile, and if the occasional player outside the usual suspects, a la Fiddler, can step up to take the pressure from the top guys, well…
The Stars were 3-5-0 through their first eight games. They're 4-1-2 since. On the rise?
- Sports & Recreation
- Vernon Fiddler
- Alex Chiasson