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Neale's Notes: Chatting with Defending Big D, Lovejoy In, Hiller Starts, Lindholm Update

The stars at night are big and bright ... (clap, clap, clap) deep in the vast, endless reaches of space, where no one can hear you scream.

Bruce Bennett

Some notes from the Morning Skate:

-- Jonas Hiller will be our starter tonight.

-- Toni Lydman has recovered from the flu and is 'available' tonight (coaches speak).

-- Newly acquired Ben Lovejoy will probably take Sami Vatanen's place in the lineup; pairing him with Bryan Allen.

-- The Ducks aren't rushing Hampus Lindholm back to the ice:

As has become tradition, I chat with the opposition prior to the game. This time it's Brad Gardner, one of the two Managing Editors at our SBN pard'ner site, Defending Big D. YEEHAW!

JN: Aside from being hurt a lot, why the heck wasn't Sheldon Souray on your power play's top unit last season? Don't get me wrong, he's had some 'WTF' moments here but that shot is a killer. One of my new favorite things is to watch the Ducks in front of the net get the hell out of the way and cover their faces with their hands when he winds up.

Brad Gardner: Souray had an impressive start for Dallas last year as well, scoring 13 points in his first 14 games. Then came a 16 game-pointless streak, lots of frustration penalties, and only 8 more points in the final 68 contests. He was on the Stars' top power play unit for much of the season, and as the year wore on his effectiveness waned sharply. Teams stopped giving him room and time to shoot, and when asked by Dallas to one-time the puck from the point he was unable. He had to stop it, then look, then shoot. Every time. It didn't work. Maybe that's something he worked on over the off-season, but he effectively played himself off of the top PP unit in Dallas, despite being afforded every opportunity to succeed there.

JN: Loui Eriksson absolutely owns the Ducks. He also doesn't get enough credit by the hockey talking heads for how great he is. What is it about him that makes him so superhuman? Does he have any weaknesses? I'm sure Coach Boudreau reads this blog, so make it detailed.

BG: I have been blessed to spend a lot of time in recent seasons around veteran hockey people via the press box, morning skates, etc - And Loui Eriksson, through Brad Richards, Jamie Benn, Mike Ribeiro, even Jaromir Jagr now, is the one that garners the most consistent praise night in and night out from people who know the game and have been around it a long time. Because he does the little things, every shift.

He possesses special instincts that are quite simply ineffable. He does his most impressive work, at times, without the puck on many nights, and you may find that though he scores well against the Ducks in particular, he dispossesses other team's best players of the puck more often than not, seemingly without any over-powering physicality or size. How? I don't know.

He is in a little bit of a funk this season though, offensively (due to a never ending shuffling of the line combinations thanks to injuries, contract disputes, etc). Maybe the Ducks are what he needs? ;)

His weakness is that he plays on a line with Michael Ryder, and thus is forced to play defense for two at times.

JN: Don't quote me on this, but I heard Mike Modano is the new Minister of Magic in the Stars front office. The Ducks are really good at giving fake positions to old players. Before he became an assistant coach, Scott Niedermayer was a 'Player Development Consultant'. Todd Marchant is Director of Player Development or something. Does Modano have any actual responsibilities? Is this Assistant to the Regional Manager Brett Hull, part two?

BG: I think we all thought that to start, but at the January press conference introducing Mike Modano's return to the organization the Stars were pretty up front with the fact that Modano's role is one aimed entirely at business relations and marketing. The Stars are trying to re-engage businesses (be it for sponsorships, suite sales, ticket packages, whatever) that used to be involved with the team when they were a powerhouse in the WCF. Mike Modano is the guy that walks into meetings with Stars' brass and flashes that Modano-grin at them. I imagine there's more to it than that. It doesn't hurt that his presence around the team interests fans as well.

JN: What the hell was GM Joe thinking trading James Neal to Pittsburgh? My outsider's perspective thinks you guys got screwed (not that I mind that). Thoughts?

BG: Pass.

Can I pass?

It's easy to second guess this trade now, particularly after a healthy scratch for Goligoski in Edmonton Wednesday. Things were different in February of 2011. Much different.

The Stars depth chart at left wing, in no particular order, was Brenden Morrow (then a 35 goal scorer, undamaged power winger), Loui Eriksson (magician), Jamie Benn (obvious future magician, not yet a center), and James Neal. Salty. The blue line, meanwhile, included 5 guys named Herb and Stephane Robidas. They couldn't break out of their own zone to save their lives.

Joe Nieuwendyk had a surplus at one positions, and a need at another, so he took a chance. Logical. Did they miss on Goligoski? Hard to argue that they didn't right now, so I'll leave it there. Could you score goals playing with Malkin? Probably. Was James Neal going to continue to score here without Brad Richards? Without Malkin? He creates nothing for himself, or others. He can't kill penalties. He was a pylon on defense, constantly being moved down the lineup to teach him a lesson on that front...He wasn't great in the room (so say some)... Had he stayed here, it's debatable what he would have become. It's great for Pittsburgh that the change in scenery (and linemates) have developed him thusly. I don't think the majority of Stars fans begrudge Joe Nieuwendyk the attempt to solve a problem by dealing a piece from a position of surplus.

JN: Please lock Loui Eriksson in a closet for me on gameday. Mkay, thanks.

BG: No.