In this edition of Stars’ News & Rumors, Braden Holtby seemingly grabs the starting role, head coach Rick Bowness continues to shuffle his lines, and more!
Holtby Grabs Starting Spot
Goaltending was among the biggest discussion topics for the Dallas Stars’ offseason. The status of Ben Bishop was unknown, Anton Khudobin was coming off a poor season a year ago, Jake Oettinger is only 22 years old with little experience, and newcomer Holtby was bought out after the two worst seasons of his career. However, Holtby has seemingly removed all doubt at the position, grabbing the starting job early in the season. In three games, he holds a 1-1-0 record (left in the third period on opening night) with a 1.75 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. Not only are his numbers great, but he has also been the calm and confident presence that the Stars need as they try to find their game early in the season.
“He’s very calm, he’s been rock solid back there. We feel very confident with him in net. He handles the puck really well, he moves it to the right area, he’s very poised, and that gives you a lot of confidence when you look back and see him.”– Stars head coach Rick Bowness
With Holtby playing well, Khudobin will serve in a backup role that he is very accustomed to. Playing as a career backup, he has helped multiple superstar goalies by allowing them more rest and playing well in the tough games. While it will likely be more of a 1A/1B situation in Dallas, the coaching staff truly believes that Khudobin is more than ready to excel in the backup role when needed.
“The role of a backup is a difficult role, but for most of the career that’s what his career has been. He’s had that role before, and he knows how to handle it. He knows how to prepare himself and he knows that at any second that you could be thrown in. That’s your job as a backup, you have to be ready for the unexpected.”– Stars head coach Rick Bowness
Bowness will continue to ride the hot goalie as he has done in the past, but is excited to have confidence in either goaltender at this point.
Stars’ Line Shuffling Continues
Throughout an NHL season, line combinations change due to injuries or strategy. For Bowness and the Stars, the past two seasons have been similar to throwing all names into a blender to see what comes out. This season, they hoped for more consistency with their lineup. Unfortunately, so far, injuries and players struggling have forced the coaching staff to continue to shuffle their lines.
The biggest reason for the changes is the current injury situation. Jason Robertson and Blake Comeau have yet to play this season while John Klingberg has not played since opening night. On top of that, many top skilled players have not quite found their game.
“It’s going to take some time, no question. Seggy (Tyler Seguin) has missed a lot of time, Rads (Alexander Radulov) has missed a lot of time, we’re just going to have to be patient with them.”– Stars head coach Rick Bowness
Luckily for the Stars, a few players have stepped up in their place. I bet that no Stars fan would guess that Radek Faksa and Michael Raffl would be leading the team in points one week into the season. However, that is exactly where we stand. Faksa has been the Stars’ best forward on both sides of the ice, returning to full health after battling a wrist injury for the past two seasons. Through four games, he has four points and a 52 percent success rate on faceoffs while playing nearly 18 minutes each night. When he is on his game, he is one of the top two-way centers in the league and a dominant force on the defensive side of the ice.
“Great start. He’s doing a great job on both ends of the ice. I love his game.”– Stars head coach Rick Bowness
So far this season, most of the offensive production has come from the more defensive-minded players. Faksa leads the team with four points, Raffl has three points, and Luke Glendening has one goal while Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Radulov have only two points between them. As for the lines, Bowness will continue to tweak them until he finds the pairs or trios that work well together.
“We put Pav (Joe Pavelski) back with Faksy and Raffl the other night and that was our best line, so we’ll keep that together. We’ve got to get Roope (Hintz) going a little bit. Kivy (Joel Kiviranta) the other night was flying and led the game in hits, so we’re just trying to jump start some offense.”– Stars head coach Rick Bowness
One expected change that was made was switching Benn to center. Throughout his career, he has played both but found a new level of play at center last season. After beginning the season on the wing next to Radulov and Seguin, Bowness moved him between Denis Gurianov and Tanner Kero in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. That trio saw success last season and Bowness hopes the change will produce more offense from Benn and Gurianov. Gurianov struggled through most of last season and is still looking to find his offense this year.
“It’s just things we’re trying to get him to do more consistency — use his speed down the wing. When he’s cutting in the middle and he’s overhandling the puck, he’s not using his speed. So, there’s habits he’s gotten into that we’re trying to break and make him a better 200-foot player. There’s a lot of unnecessary motion that takes him out of his game, and we’re trying to get him to calm down a little bit and play his wing a little bit more.”– Stars head coach Rick Bowness
The Stars finished up a four-game road trip with a 2-2-0 record and return to the American Airlines Center Friday night for their home opener against the Los Angeles Kings. Overall, they play eight of the first 11 games on the road this season. If they can get through that above water, they can use their home-heavy remaining schedule to push ahead in the playoff race this season.
Sam Nestler is a Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the NHL and NCAA. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!