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|28 октября 2008
Dallas Stars look forward to Zubov in defense // Dallas News
Sergei Zubov will probably serve as a spare tire when he returns to the ice. The Stars, limping along on a flat, can get rolling on four tires again.
But he can't be expected to remedy problems in the engine, transmission and brakes as well.
Zubov is working out on his sore hip and is expected to play his first game of the season Saturday in Boston. His return could help settle a team that is allowing a league-worst 4.22 goals per game.
But while Zubov can do a lot of things in a lot of areas, the Stars have to be better throughout the lineup if they hope to snap out of an early-season slump that has them 3-4-2 after nine games.
"He's an elite-level defenseman who will give you 25-plus minutes a
game and play in all situations. So, yeah, he can have a positive impact
for us," coach Dave Tippett said.
"But our problems right now are in a lot of different areas with a lot of different players, and we can't be looking for saviors. We all have to get better."
If the Stars do, then the impact of Zubov's return can be significant.
Even at 38, Zubov still is an effortless skater, a masterful stick-handler and the smartest player on the team. He plays on the top power-play unit and the top penalty-kill unit, and his addition will go a long way in getting the defensive pairs straight.
The Stars have settled on Stephane Robidas and Nicklas Grossman as their best shutdown defensemen. The two earned that role in the playoffs last season when Zubov was hurt with a sports hernia. Robidas is minus-1 while playing more than 24 minutes a game this season. He has a goal, six assists and 28 hits.
The Stars will probably keep that pair together but reduce its time on the ice.
Zubov could then take his usual 25 minutes. He'll probably be paired with Matt Niskanen.
The two struck an odd chemistry last season when Niskanen made the surprising jump to the NHL at age 20. Niskanen and Trevor Daley have struggled together, and the coaching staff has looked at ways to split up those two.
If Niskanen can play beside Zubov, then Daley, 25, could be joined by veteran Philippe Boucher. That would put a veteran with a young defenseman on every pair and allow the Stars to avoid trusting minutes to two youngsters at the same time.
That could go a long way in getting the team back to the point where it can make smart, instinctive decisions on defense.
"You have to be able to think out there and anticipate, but you don't want to think too much," Grossman said. "You have to be able to react out there and just know what the right thing is."
When Zubov returns, the Stars will lose the $5.3 million salary exception they received when he was on the injured list. They could lose not only a defenseman but also a forward to make room for Zubov under the salary cap.
If the Stars claim a retroactive long-term injury on Jere Lehtinen, that could create the space needed. But whatever transactions are needed to get Zubov back in the lineup, they'll be worth it.
"He just does so many things to help our team," Robidas said. "We always miss him when he's out."