Stars: Finding a Place for Roope Hintz’s Return

Dallas Stars’ Roope Hintz is considered for a possible return in Saturday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks. The 23-year-old was placed on injured reserve after sustaining a lower-body injury. Hintz has missed a total of six games and will tack on one more after Thursday’s game with the Winnipeg Jets.

In the two weeks he has missed, the Stars offense has found its groove. After only scoring 31 goals during October, the Stars have found the back of the net 30 times in the last eight games. Twenty-four of those goals have come in Hintz absence.

Stepping Up in Hintz’s Absence

From a skybox view, it looks like the Stars have figured out their offense without Hintz. They have. Centers and the first line has not been a weakness for Dallas. Justin Dowling has picked up the slack in Hintz’s absence, scoring four goals. The Dowling-Tyler Seguin-Jamie Benn line has worked like a Singer, combining for 16 points in the last three games. Dowling has called playing with the line “easy.” 

“I played them a few times last year and we got some good chemistry,” Dowling said in Tuesday night’s post-game interview. “I’m grateful to be playing with those two.”

Roope Hintz Dallas Stars
Roope Hintz, Dallas Stars (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Dowling has more than earned his keep on this team and is contributing to the Stars’ success. On the younger side, Jason Dickinson has also been effective. He has racked up five points during Hintz’s injury. Fellow center Radek Faksa has produced seven points in the same span of time.

Despite the depth, Hintz’s return should blossom more optimism in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro. Granted, there will be some more line tweaking. But getting this right is only going to further Dallas’ surge of goal scoring.

Related: Jamie Benn’s Early-Season Struggles

Hintz has 11 points in the 16 games he’s played this season. He’s an accurate shooter with a team high 27% shooting percentage. No one is questioning his ability to play. The question is, where do you put him?

Considering Jim Montgomery’s Options

The first option is to shake the lines up and place Hintz with Benn and Corey Perry. (from ‘Breaking down the Stars’ new top line of Jamie Benn, Roope Hintz and Corey Perry,’ Dallas Morning News, 10/23/2019) It’s an oddball combination of strength and speed that has found success. During games against the Ottawa Senators and Philadelphia Flyers, the trio gave the Stars more shot chances and goals than their opponents. Hintz said he really liked this line. Stars coach Jim Montgomery said the line combination has natural chemistry. Placing Hintz at wing instead of center could create more breakout chances while Benn and Perry play physical defense.

Roope Hintz, Mats Zuccarello, Alexander Radulov, Jim Montgomery
Dallas Stars coach Jim Montgomery (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The question is what do you do with Dowling and Seguin? The best answer might be Denis Gurianov-Dowling-Seguin, but the second line combo of Gurianov-Joe Pavelski-Alexander Radulov is already strong. Montgomery could place Seguin with Pavelski and Gurianov and move Radulov to the third line. This scenario opens up experimentation with Dowling in place of Dickinson or Faksa.

Another option, if Monty doesn’t want to interrupt the first two lines’ productivity, might be a one-for-one insert. Hintz could play on the left of Dickinson and Perry. Not only is this a great option to elevate a line, it’s also a chance for Dallas to develop two of its younger players simultaneously with Perry’s veteran presence. It also gives Montgomery time to evaluate Hintz as he returns from injury.

Dallas Stars Roope Hintz Jamie Benn
Dallas Stars center Roope Hintz and left wing Jamie Benn (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)

The biggest factor in all of this will be defensive play. The Stars score more goals when their defense is shutting down their opposition. Since the streak began in late October, Dallas has held its opponents to 1.75 goals per game. Whatever line allows Hintz to play the best defense should be taken into consideration. Keeping that lockdown defense will be the cornerstone of the team.

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Whatever Montgomery chooses, the Stars should feel positive about adding more firepower to its offense. The prospect of Hintz’s return can only contribute to Dallas’ current hot streak and run toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs.