Hintz Helps Drive Dallas Divisional Dash

Teeth have been gnashed, but after a season defined by offensive struggles, there are signs Roope Hintz is starting to emerge as a worthy top-six forward. If his success can be sustained, the Stars might finally find the offensive depth they need.

A tuck-away tally (thanks Tyler!) took Roope Hintz’s total to eight goalsThursday night against the Minnesota Wild. The goal followed a pair against Buffalo, and seemed like a just reward for a string of energetic, confident performances from the young winger. Yes, goaltending has been The Story this season for the Stars, but a startling lack of secondary scoring has been a major supporting character. It is only fair for fans to wonder whether Hintz has somehow smacked the side of the offensive bottle as the season enters a critical stretch. Are the goals legit? Fans want to know, is what Hintz doing sustainable?

The goals themselves are instructive. Hintz’s first against the Sabres was 100% certified nasty. Jason Dickinson’s point shot found the proverbial pile of guhk in front of the net, Hintz collected the rebound, and then for NHL 2002 fans, put the puck where Eric Estrada keeps his teeth whitening cream (man, his teeth are white). The goal required hands to settle, skates to advance, and a goal-scorer’s instinct to elevate in tight. Check the individual skill box and collect your daps, son.

From a sustainability standpoint, I actually found his second strike more instructive. Situationally, it was a power play goal, point one. Next, look at who else was on the ice at the time: Tyler Seguin and John Klingberg had the assists while Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov rounded out the Stars’ fivesome. That’s significant firepower. Point number two: look at the play itself. This wasn’t Hintz finding a horseshoe in the crease. The Stars ran an offensive set designed to curl the winger into the slot with a clear shooting lane. It worked, and Hintz buried his opportunity with aplomb, game over. That’s point three.

His goal against the Wild tells the same story. Once again Hintz found himself on the ice alongside Tyler Seguin and capitalized, which is a trend. This season, Hintz has averaged 22.9% of icetime with Seguin and Radulov. Since the calendar flipped to March, that number has kicked up to 53.8%. Furthermore, he’s played 1:38 on the power play and 16:10 overall. Not superstar numbers, but more critically for Dallas, not the scattershot ice time of a forward struggling to find a coherent role in the team. Hintz-Seguin-Radoluv is a thing, now.

More than that, he has so far rewarded coach Jim Montgomery for the opportunity. Did you know Roope Hintz has 5 goals in his last 10 games? No, Alexander Ovechkin is not nervous, but think for a second about the impact of Dallas adding a (pro-rated) 41 goal scorer over the season’s final month.

It is entirely possible Hintz is blossoming as an offensive factor at the best possible time. Remember, this is a 2nd round pick (49th overall) with 57 points (29 goals, 28 assists) in 91 AHL games including 22 points (9 goals, 13 assists) in 21 games this season before what is almost certainly his final call-up. There is some pedigree at play, here.

Would you like a few other assorted positive signals? Hintz has 11 shots in his past 5 games, 22 in his last 10. Dallas, meanwhile, has averaged 2.6 goals per game over that stretch. Maybe it’s a low bar, but that number represents an improvement over Dallas’ season average (2.54 G/GP). Finally, Dallas’ other goal-scorers during March: Radulov (5), Benn (4), John Klingberg (2), Radek Faksa (1), and Joel L’Esperance (1). Again, these are not huge numbers, but when you’re the league’s 2nd stingiest defense (173 GA) they don’t have to be. A marginal bump is going to make a noticeable difference for this team. If the secondary names keep popping up even a little bit, and the big names produce outside of an overloaded top line, the Dallas Stars could present a formidable post-season challenge.