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In Pursuit of a Boost for the Dallas Stars Offense, Rick Bowness Is Trying Something New and Something Familiar

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Scoring is good, generally speaking. And these might be just the men to do it.

NHL: FEB 27 Stars at Bruins Photo by John Crouch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Shout it from the rooftops, scream it from the pulpit

Yell it till I hear you, sell it like you fought and

Shout it from the rooftops, scream it from the pulpit

Yell it till I hear you, ain’t no doubt about it, yeah

***

Hockey is back, or at least it is trying to be. Monday brought the first day of anything resembling a normal ryhthm of the season, and speaking strictly as a hockey fan, it was sort of cool. Seeing The Tweets, Thinking About Strategy, Seeing Names? Yeah, that stuff has a nice aroma to it after what we’ve been going through as a nation (and a people) for the better part of 2020.

Of course, you then turn around and read about Rick Bowness being careful to stay on the bench with a mask for now until everyone has gotten tested because, you know, he would enjoy seeing his grandson grow up someday. This is where we are right now. I don’t think “harrowing” is too strong a word at all.

Yikes, right?

For our part as hockey fans, we can but continue to hope and pray that things get better, somehow; that the NHL’s grand bubble doesn’t burst before the ball gets rolling; and that we can all, as communities and as a country, turn things around through cooperation, humility, and goodwill. Seems like we’re on the right track for that, definitely.

Anyway, the hockey. Ah! You are hear to read about it, and we are nothing if not purveyors of the good, good stuff that scratches that special itch that hockey gave us long ago. Assuming you wash your gear regularly, I mean. If not, then you might have a few to choose from.

Right, yes. The Dallas Stars! You may recall that they were not doing so great the last time we caught up with them. Never fear, though—Rick Bowness has not been any happier with the offensive woes than you have, and he’s working on some ideas. In fact, those lines manifested themselves right away when players hit the ice:

Activating the defense to get a fourth attacker involved was a pretty familiar sight back in 2013-2016, so it will be interesting to see if the majority of the blueliners are able to follow through with this new, old way of doing things.

So, okay. The Stars need to score more, and they are not oblivious to this fact. Both good things. But at training camp on Monday, the Stars sported two forward lines that might be as crucial to the Stars’ playoff fortunes as any they’ve iced all year.

The first one, of course, involves Tyler Seguin, because when you have a player like Tyler Seguin, you’re always going to need him to be in the middle of your offense. To that end, Seguin was skating—not at center—but on the right wing of Roope Hintz, with Denis Gurianov opposite him at left wing.

“That’s a very fast line,” Bowness said. “That’s great speed up front, so we want to take a look at it and see what it looks like. What that line has in terms of speed is going to intimidate a lot of teams.”

I mean, you know a forward line is fast when Seguin might be the slowest one on it, right? And, you have to say this for Rick Bowness: after struggling for much of the winter to find ways to get more ice time to the Stars’ top two young offensive weapons, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better way to force more minutes their way than by putting them with your number one center. That’s backing up your words with actions.

Hintz was the Stars’ best forward early in the season, and Gurianov led the team in goals for the entire****** regular season. That line can and should be a fearsome weapon for any coach, against any team. It’s an intriguing start of camp for a team looking for more offense, especially as Seguin hasn’t played much at all with Gurianov this year.

******maybe not enough asterisks

It’s day one, of course. Things can and will certainly change. But putting that line aside, I actually found another one even more interesting.

That line? Per Mike Heika, it’s Pavelski, Radulov, and Janmark:

The regular checking line of Radek Faksa flanked by Blake Comeau and Andrew Cogliano returned, while the final line is Joe Pavelski between Alexander Radulov and Mattias Janmark. Bowness said those three players are among the best on the team statistically in puck possession, and that he anticipate they can build on that.

“They didn’t play a whole lot together, but when they did, they obviously had results,” Bowness said. “If we can generate time in the zone with those guys and generate quality chances, we’re confident the puck will go in the net for us.”

Pavelski and Radulov are second and third among forwards on the team in terms of time on ice, so that could be the top line or the fourth line, but that’s the kind of balance Bowness is looking for.

This line isn’t exactly new. In fact, before getting hurt just before the break, Radulov had spent the better part of the last dozen or so games playing with Janmark and Pavelski. And while the goals didn’t quite pile up, the underlying metrics were extremely promising. Here’s what HockeyViz.com has to say about the trio’s work in the site’s (very fun) Environment Distiller tool:

To contextualize this in simple terms: the red areas in the zones show where more shots happened relative to league average, whereas blue means fewer shots happened relative to league average. You want positive (above-average) numbers in the offensive zone, and negative (fewer-than-average allowed) numbers in your own (defensive) zone. As you can see, this line has managed to do quite well in both.

I want to give some moderate kudos to Rick Bowness for sticking with this line. The goals haven’t actually backed up the great metrics, as the line has only scored three goals at evens while having seen four go in their own net. But when you have underlying numbers backing you up, it usually behooves you to stick with the plan despite some short-term hiccups, and that appears to be Bowness’s plan, for the moment.

It’s not only the expected goals metric from HockeyViz that supports this, either. In fact, per Matthew DeFranks of the Dallas Morning News, Bowness cited that forward line as one of the Stars’ best in offensive chances as well as offensive-zone time. So, there are multiple real, concrete reasons for sticking with this trio, and that appears to be where the Stars coaching staff landed after months of studying tape, numbers, and tea leaves.

Intuitively, one can posit some solid reasons for why that line might work. Janmark’s speed on the forecheck and ability to carry pucks up the ice has long been noted, but his goal-scoring is not a particular strength. Pavelski, meanwhile, has been scoring goals for a long time, and knows how to do it in the playoffs, too. Toss in a player like Radulov who can win battles along the boards and do some playmaking—not to mention that he’s also beenthe most consistently effective member of the Benn-Seguin-Radulov line since his arrival in 2017—and you can see this line being a decent threat without doing too many mental gymnastics.

Incidentally, the Seguin-Hintz-Gurianov line could work for similar reasons, with Gurianov and Hintz having some of the same zone-traversing and puck-retrieving abilities of Janmark and Radulov, with Seguin (like Pavelski) being the trigger man, among other things. Of course, it’s easy to oversimplify a line (or lines) like this, but the point here is just to give examples of what “chemistry” can look like for a forward line when it has the puck.

That setup of those six forwards leaves the offense with the checking line we all know and love (to talk about), and a final line of Jamie Benn, Corey Perry, and Jason Dickinson. That’s a line that can do a few different things for you, even if it might not be a fearsome scoring threat in a vacuum. And it’s worth remembering that it won’t be playing in a vacuum, as it would likely see less than top competition with Seguin and Radulov on two other lines drawing top defense pairs. So one would expect either that line or the Janmark-Pavelski-Radulov line to get some tertiary offensive benefits if the Seguin-Hintz-Gurianov line is able to generate enough offensive heat to turn defensive heads. Again, we are simplifying things, but not egregiously, I hope.

In any case, it’s nice to see the team mixing things up to give the kids a chance to really help the offense get to work while also sticking with a relatively new line that has been working, even if it hasn’t, er, worked. In goal terms, I mean. Look, you don’t blow up your power play formation if you’re creating good chances with it, is all I’m saying.

Yes, this talk is absurdly premature, and sure, throw in all the other caveats you’d expect. And, strategy aside, we have no idea if things will even progress to the point where we get to see a single game. So much in our world today does not turn out the way we would hope.

But if the Stars do end up playing hockey again next month, the offense was always going to need some new ideas. It was also going to need to fix what was already there, somehow. Through one day of camp, there are already a couple of possibly positive ways that you could see both of those things happening, maybe. Hockey is fun to talk about, eh?