With Stephane Robidas returning to the ice last week, the Dallas Stars got a big boost at the blue line with their most seasoned defensemen returning to the fold in Thursday's win at Nashville.
Now as the Stars set out on a two-game Pacific Division road trip that begins on Tuesday night in Anaheim, Dallas could get another key member of their defensive corps in Sheldon Souray, better known as Hammer, a name given him by former Devils teammate Lyle Odelein, who had a swim through Big D late in his NHL career.
He will have missed six games after suffering an ankle injury in a Dec. 23 win over the Predators. He did go through his first full skate on Monday just hours before his club left for the west coast, a trip he will be making. But he stopped short of guaranteeing he will return on Tuesday night against the Ducks.
"See how she goes tomorrow. Today was kind of the first full practice I've had. So we'll see what's up (after morning skate on Tuesday)," Souray said."
Dallas head coach Glen Gulutzan offered his own assessment about whether or not the big No. 44 will return for his club in the first game of the roadie. "He's very close. He's a probable for Tuesday," Gulutzan said. "I would say it's 6040. He's going to see how he feels tomorrow a little bit and we'll go from there."
That's an assessment the man with 16 points (4-12-16) in 34 games, a total which had led all Stars defensemen until Trevor Daley's recent offensive outburst, completely agrees with.
"Yeah, that (6040) is fair for sure. I just have to make sure I don't play one to sit two. I want to make sure I'm fully ready to go because this is the first practice I've had," Souray said. "We had a 20-minuter the other day but you've got to get in a couple of practices. It's different than going out and skating lines."
One interesting fact about his current injury is that it is the exact same ankle he broke earlier in this career. "I broke my ankle one year in juniors. It was in January, so I ended up missing the rest of the year, so I never had to come back on it," he said. "I had the summer off to rehab. It was like it never happened type of thing. This is the first one, a sprain. It's kind of a nagging thing. I've heard it can be kind of serious."
Prior to his injury, Souray lined up alongside Robidas as Dallas' top defensive pairing. While he'd clearly like to go right back to skating alongside Robi, whomever Gulutzan pairs him with is immaterial because all he wants to do is play and help his team win.
"We'll see. We (Robidas and I) have gone good. I think we're all used to playing with the partners that we had, especially in the first half of the year. Goose and Robi played well too, two good players," he said. "Whatever, basically I just want to get back, get in and get to the level I want to play at for the home stretch here. I just want to get some minutes in, get comfortable and get back at it. It doesn't matter."
And his return couldn't come at a better time, especially since Dallas' next two opponents, the Ducks and Kings, are two teams that have their fair share of big players, the sort of opponents this seasoned blue-liner definitely enjoys playing against.
"Every game has its own kind of game within a game. Guys like Perry, Getlzaf, Bobby Ryan, Selanne, they've got guys who can create a real challenge for any team. Perry scored three again last night. He's heating up," Souray said. "When you've got guys who can play physical and also put the puck in the net, they skate well and kind of do everything well, it's a challenge."
But as loaded as the Ducks are with the likes of reigning Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan among others, he realizes that matching up with them will only be half the challenge for him and his teammates during this short, two-game road swing. "You look at LA and they've got a team that plays hard. They've got guys like Richards, Kopitar, Penner, Justin Williams, guys who play hard, who play big and are hard to play against," Souray said.
"They wear you down. They go to the front of the net. They play big. They lean on you in the corners. They're hard to knock off the puck," he said. "They're good. It would be nice to come back and play against players like that because they're good players and you want to see how you match up. But I won't do that at the expense of the team and doing something that's not in the best interest of the team."