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Usage for Gurianov, Hintz is Dull, Drab, Depressingly Dallas

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During the month of February, the Dallas Stars played four one-goal games against quality opponents. How did interim head coach Rick Bowness deploy his dynamic wingers in those close contests?

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Dallas Stars
Who has two thumbs and plays about 13 minutes no matter what?
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

According to interim head coach Rick Bowness, Denis Gurianov would have gone fourth in their shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues on February 29. It doesn’t feel like it, but that’s actually progress. At least Bowness remembered Gurianov was on the bench! There is no word as to whether he knew the whereabouts of Roope Hintz. Snark aside, usage for Dallas’ No. 1 and No. 3 goal-scorers has been a common fan complaint for much of the season, but is it a valid one?

The Dallas Stars recently wrapped up a 15-game February with a 9-3-3 record. For those of you scoring at home, Dallas acquired 70% of the points available to them (21 of 30) during a congested, difficult stretch of their season. That’s elite. On the other hand, losses to the New York Islanders, Blues (twice), and Boston Bruins suggest there might be a gap between Dallas and the league’s true upper class. A recent five-game losing streak has not helped.

In the context of a conversation about Gurianov and Hintz, several of those February tilts become particularly interesting. Three were of the one-goal variety, which feels like exactly the time fans should see the most from offensive-leaning assets like Hintz and Gurianov. Based on comments by the coach and resulting fan angst, they also feel like situations were Dallas’ dynamic duo were surely under-utilized. Which was it? Why not take a look?

February 4: Dallas 3 vs New York Islanders 4 (OT)

The Situation

Dallas entered the third period tied 2-2 with a goal by Denis Gurianov on the power play already on the board. They would take the lead roughly seven minutes into the final stanza, surrender that lead with four minutes left, and then lose in the extra frame.

Their Usage

Gurianov: 11:41 time on ice, 15 total shifts (by period: 5, 4, 5, 1)

Hintz: 14:54 time on ice, 19 total shifts (by period: 7, 6, 6, 1)

Gurianov, a goal-scorer in the game, finished the night ahead of only Corey Perry in terms of ice time. Hintz, by comparison, finished 15th. On a shift-by-shift basis (one of Bowness’ common retorts to ice-time issues), the young Russian was tied with Perry at the bottom of the list, while his Finnish colleague inched up to 13th on the Stars. Blake Comeau, a random benchmark, played 16:14 (ninth), and took 23 shifts (seventh).

If we break things down by period, both Gurianov and Hintz saw a relatively even distribution of shifts. For Gurianov, it was five in the first, four in the second, five in the third, and one in overtime. Hintz played seven in the first, six in the second, six in the third, and one in overtime. During the final four minutes, after the Islanders had tied the game, Hintz took a pair of shifts, Gurianov just one.

By comparison, our benchmark played eight shifts each period and did not see the ice in overtime.

Their Effectiveness

This was actually an interesting game statistically. Both Gurianov (one goal), and Hintz (one assist) made the scoresheet. So that’s good, right? On the other hand, Gurianov pretty much got caved. The Stars managed 38.8% of shot attempts while he was on the ice at even-strength, a figure better than only Roman Polak’s 22.7% (gross). Gurianov scored on his only shot of the game, and was on the ice for one of New York’s goals. Hintz was also on the ice for an Islanders goal, but kept his head above water with the Stars registering 53.8% of shot attempts.

Was it Justified?

Maybe? As far as sample sizes go, it’s hard to take 11 minutes seriously. There’s also the goal to consider. In Bowness’ favor, Hintz and Gurianov’s offensive contributions were limited to a single play.

February 8: Dallas 3 vs St. Louis 2 (OT)

The Situation

Reeling from back-to-back losses, the Stars surrendered a pair of first-period goals by Colton Parayko. Jamie Benn pulled one back, then Roope Hintz another. After a scoreless third period, Hintz settled matters in overtime.

Their Usage

Gurianov: 12:30 time on ice, 21 total shifts (by period: 6, 6, 8, 1)

Hintz: 17:22 time on ice, 20 total shifts (by period: 7, 6, 7, 1)

Both men played a bit more than they did against the Islanders. Hintz had a minute and a half more, while Gurianov saw about a minute of additional ice time. Not a meaningful difference, in other words. Shift patterns were also pretty static. Gurianov played six shifts in the first and second periods, eight in the third, and a single overtime shift. Hintz played seven shifts in the first, six in the second, seven in the third, and just a single overtime shift. Really, the only meaningful difference is a six-shift boost for Gurianov versus what he played against the Islanders.

Their Effectiveness

A pair of goals for Hintz is certainly a good place to start. That’s where it ends, too. The Stars registered 40.9% of all even-strength shot attempts while he was on the ice despite outshooting the Blues overall (34 to 25). Gurianov lacked the production, and was even on the ice for one of St. Louis’ goals, but generated 63.1% of even-strength shot attempts while he was on the ice. Statistics, right?

Was it Justified?

They won, which counts for something. There also might be a parallel in Hintz playing over 17 minutes and scoring twice. Maybe Bowness did good? That said, the fact that neither man saw major in-game variation speaks against any kind of change in strategy.

February 27: Boston 4 vs Dallas 3

The Situation

Dallas had been spanked 5-1 by the Blues the previous week, but had a pair of wins — against the Chicago Blackhawks and a tremendous performance against the Carolina Hurricanes — to suggest brighter days. It was a good game, too, but Boston’s two-goal second period proved too much for a late Stars rally.

Their Usage

Gurianov: 14:13 time on ice, 20 total shifts (by period: 6, 7, 7)

Hintz: 15:22 time on ice, 21 total shifts (by period: 6, 8, 7)

This game was more like the one against the Blues than the Islanders, but the overall trend in our sample holds. Gurianov (six shifts in the first, seven in the second and third) and Hintz (six shifts in the first, eight in the second, seven in the third) were used consistently across all three periods, and mostly in line with their established patterns. Gurianov played about three more minutes overall, but it was not the product of a higher shift count. The only thing that really stands out is Gurianov playing just about a minute less than Hintz, as opposed to his typically three to five minutes less.

Their Effectiveness

Gurianov potted his 19th goal of the season early in the third period and had five shots on goal. Hintz put up two shots, but did not manage to make the scoresheet. Neither Gurianov (42.1%) nor Hintz (36.3%) were positive drivers at 5-on-5 despite a slight edge in overall shots on goal to Dallas (34 to 28). Both Gurianov (1:31) and Hintz (1:18) saw meaningful minutes on the power play.

Was it Justified?

Chasing a goal did seem to put Gurianov on the ice a bit more, and it almost paid off. While not forgotten (Hintz did play more against the Bruins than he did against the Islanders), the Finnish winger did not seem emphasized either. The Stars did not find the game-tying goal, so maybe that’s the answer.

February 29: St. Louis 4 vs Dallas 3 (OT)

The Situation

After an absolute disaster in their previous meeting, Dallas needed to demonstrate they could stay on the ice with the Blues. In that sense, mission accomplished. An empty-net goal by John Klingberg secured a point, but Dallas lost the eventual shootout.

Their Usage

Gurianov: 13:20 time one ice, 23 total shifts (by period: 7, 5, 8, 3)

Hintz: 16:42 time on ice, 24 total shifts (by period: 7, 6, 8, 3)

Honestly, more of the same. Despite a full five-minute overtime, neither Gurianov nor Hintz showed a meaningful difference from the rest of the games in our sample. At the same time, both saw steady usage throughout the context, including three shifts each in sudden-death. Gurianov dropped back to about three minutes less than Hintz, but kept his shift totals flat with the Finn. The lack of a power play probably hurt both men’s ice time.

Their Effectiveness

Gurianov scored toward the end of the second period on one of his two shots. Hintz had three shots but nothing to show for himself points-wise, and took a penalty. Getting fancy with our statistics reveals that Gurianov (72.2%) and Hintz (69.5%) were Dallas’ most effective drivers of even-strength shot attempts.

Was it Justified?

Between the goal and the possession numbers, one could absolutely make the case that Gurianov and Hintz were among Dallas’ most effective players in this game. Despite this, neither saw an appreciable hike in usage.

So What?

At the risk of sounding like a cynic, the biggest takeaway is how static things are for Hintz and Gurianov. You can set your watch by it. No matter the in-game situation, Gurianov is going to play a couple minutes less than Hintz, but roughly the same amount of shifts. Either might see a one or even two shift bump in a given period, but that’s about it. Things like goals and possession don’t seem to matter much either.

A four-game sample is hardly comprehensive, but within this stretch things were very consistent. Interim head coach Rick Bowness has his rotation and seems to stick to that rotation no matter what. All four games were close, and one could argue that all four represented exactly how the 2019-20 Stars are built to play. Bowness got exactly what he wanted, stylistically. Meanwhile, Dallas lost three of the four games and did not finish regulation with a lead. It’s hard to beat the Stars, but that does not necessarily track to Dallas winning in the way you’d expect. It is fair to wonder what difference a few extra minutes might make to either Hintz or Gurianov.