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Souray, Stars go on defensive

Special to FOX Sports Curtis Zupke, Hockey Primetime
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ANAHEIM, Calif.

Pete Peeters sometimes tells a story about the time he stood in net against Sheldon Souray.

Peeters was a goaltending consultant in Edmonton a few years back and, as he occasionally does, put on full goalie pads and faced shots in an Oilers practice when Souray unloaded his signature hard shot.

“I didn’t see it but I heard it,” said Peeters, now a goalie coach with the Anaheim Ducks. “I heard it go by.”

The same can be said for Souray’s career revival and the upstart Dallas Stars: Nobody truly saw it coming but plenty are hearing about it.

Dallas is off to a 6-2 start, serving notice that it could be a factor in the Pacific Division. Souray has fit into a conservative, defensive system run by first-year coach Glen Gulutzan.

Playing on the second defense pairing with Stephane Robidas, Souray has five points in eight games with a team-high plus-6 rating.

But Gulutzan points to Souray’s contributions at the other end.

“He’s defended really, really well,” Gulutzan said. “Everybody’s caught up in (his) points. But we’re just glad to have him for the presence he brings us on the back and how defensive he’s played for us.

“He’s got some veteran savvy. He’s got a great stick. He’s hard to defend. Guys pay a price coming toward the net, and that stuff has been big for our club.”

Much skepticism surrounded Souray, whose baggage is well documented.

He demanded a trade out of Edmonton. The Oilers put him on waivers and told him not to report to training camp before eventually sending him to the AHL, where Souray played last season even after he cleared waivers a second time at the trade deadline.

Souray, 35, signed a one-year deal with Dallas in July amid doubts about whether he could get back to being an effective NHL defenseman.

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“Some of it’s probably warranted,” Souray said before he added, “A lot of it probably is.”

But Souray said he’s motivated in a different way.

“I have a certain belief in myself and I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to come here and show I still have some hockey left in me,” he said. “But I don’t necessarily use that as motivation. My biggest measuring stick is myself. That’s been my motivation to come out and show that I can play and be healthy. It’s important for me to come back and not prove other people wrong, but prove myself right.”

The Stars are trying to prove they belong in the playoffs. They missed the eighth spot by two points last season and then lost free agent Brad Richards to the New York Rangers.

That left the club well under the radar.

“I don’t think there are many people that give us a chance to make the playoffs,” Robidas said. “You look at every expert, TV analyst and newspaper and they say we’re going to be one of the bottom teams. We feel we have a pretty good group, good depth. … I think we have the right mix of different players.”

The Stars’ trapping style isn’t conducive to the highlight reel. Dallas is getting outshot by an average of 32.8 to 25.1 shots per game and leans heavily on goalie Kari Lehtonen. It has all of three power-play goals in 28 chances.

Only two of its six victories have come against teams with winning records, but Dallas flashed its credentials over the weekend, nearly pulling off a back-to-back sweep at Anaheim and Los Angeles.

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“They’re really committed to the defensive part of the game,” Kings coach Terry Murray said. “There’s a lot of pulling out, waiting in the middle of the ice. Five back to the front of their net. They’re taking away and limiting those grade-A scoring chances. Everybody’s on board with it.”

Souray said that focus was evident when he arrived.

“I think, to a man, the guys who have been here feel like they can contribute more and take on a bigger role,” he said. “Since I’ve got here, guys have been prepared to do that. That’s a powerful thing when you have guys wanting to do more and not just say it, but go out and do it.”

Pacific Division Notes:

Mike Richards’ value to the Kings was bookended Saturday, when he fought Steve Ott in an attempt to spark his team (Richards’ first fighting major in a year) in the first period, then won a faceoff that led to the third-period game winner in a 1-0 victory against Dallas. … Look for San Jose to get rolling: Martin Havlat had assists in back-to-back games in his debut in wins at New Jersey and Boston. The Sharks face big tests this week at Nashville and Detroit. … Whatever honeymoon Anaheim enjoyed ended abruptly Sunday when it was charged with 15 giveaways in a 5-4 loss to Phoenix. The Ducks start a seven-game road trip Tuesday. … Phoenix’s poor start trickles down to its fourth line: Petteri Nokelainen was traded for a prospect Sunday and Raffi Torres has only one point in seven games.

Tagged: Oilers, Stars, Flyers, Sheldon Souray, Brad Richards, Mike Richards

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