If Stars head coach Lindy Ruff harbored any doubts Friday morning that forward Antoine Roussel had received his message, which came in the form of a healthy scratch of Roussel on Thursday night in New Jersey, it’s safe to say that he can shelve them for now. Ruff commented on the hole left by Roussel’s absence in a pregame interview with Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, saying that “it hurt our lineup…not having his energy.” Roussel responded Friday, tallying an assist and a +2 rating in his first game back from sitting in favor of Dustin Jeffrey.
The scratch came on the heels of a trend of poorly timed and costly penalties from Roussel: in the four contests before Ruff’s decision, he racked up 15 penalty minutes in just under 48 minutes of ice time. There was only one fighting major among the infractions. Perhaps the most glaring piece of incriminating evidence was the winger's cross-check of Casey Cizikas that led to a goal early in the second period of an eventual 7-3 loss to the Islanders on Monday. While this call was seen by many as evidence of Roussel’s status as a “marked man,” a descriptor given to him by Ruff himself, Ruff said in the same breath that the young forward’s “penalties were getting out of hand” and that his “focus inside the game needs to be directed on the style that we need him to play.”
No one understands the need to walk the line between an aggressive and an out of control style of play better than Roussel himself. The fan favorite found success in this category in 39 games with the Stars last season, taking a comparatively light ten minor penalties and 85 total penalty minutes over that span.
Roussel admitted Friday morning that “[he] has to know what [his] job is,” while adding that “[he] can find that line” between high energy and high risk.
For Stars fans, this accountability is only one of the things they’ve come to love about the French left winger. His grit, passion, and will to win have endeared him to a large percentage of the fan base in his short career in Dallas, and for many, these qualities far outweigh his aptitude for finding the sin bin. On top of what he brings to the ice, Roussel is the picture of professionalism away from it: he’s routinely the first player out of the room to sign for fans after open practices, and takes the time to make sure each one has a positive experience.
Despite the extension of the Stars’ now five game losing streak, the effort put forth Friday night inside Madison Square Garden was without question a far cry from what many saw as a lackluster one across the Hudson river the night before. It can be attributed to a lot of things, including stellar goaltending from Kari Lehtonen, but the speed and effectiveness of the line of Roussel, Cody Eakin and Ryan Garbutt cannot be overstated.
For this fan (who admits a certain amount of bias when writing about his current favorite Star), Roussel’s game is one that the Stars can’t afford to go without moving forward. He’s shown in the past that he can keep his time in the box under control, and there’s no reason to doubt that he can continue to do so. The speed and tenacity of his game allows him to compete with any line he’s matched up against, and he’s shown time and time again that he has the ability to make things happen offensively while also being an important asset on the other side of the puck. That two-way nature is something the Stars can’t afford to leave sitting in the press box.
Was Ruff’s move to scratch Roussel the right call? Do you believe as I do that he’s a critical part of the Stars’ lineup moving forward? Leave a comment and let us know what you think.