The Stars announced Tuesday that right wing Tyler Pitlick is going to be out at least the next eight weeks following surgery to repair tendon damage in his left wrist.
Pitlick hasn't played since taking a hard hit from Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Brown in the January 17 game at American Airlines Center. But Stars coach Jim Montgomery said Pitlick had been dealing with the wrist issue before the Brown hit.
"It was just something over time," Montgomery said following Tuesday's optional practice in Frisco. "I don't know if it was the Brown hit or something in that Kings game that turned it, but it's a tendon, and you never know when they go from being a nuisance to being painful."
Eight weeks from today is April 2 and the final regular season game for the Stars is April 6, meaning Pitlick is basically on the shelf for the rest of the regular season. So, the Stars have lost one of their top nine forwards long-term.
"It lessens our depth, right?" Montgomery said. "He's a tenacious player that we use on the penalty kill, use him on the power play and obviously his ability to play with [Radek Faksa] on a checking line is going to be missed. It's an opportunity for others to step up and they have recently."
Two of the players getting opportunities are rookie forwards Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov. They've been playing together on the fourth line and seeing power play time. Gurianov's latest call-up came as a result of the Pitlick injury. Hintz, who was called up in late December after Martin Hanzal went out with a back injury, has seen his role expand recently, taking on some penalty killing time in Pitlick's absence.
"This is their opportunity to seize being an everyday NHLer," said Montgomery. "They don't have to score to be an NHL player, but if you are not scoring you have to have an impact to help us. That's the evolution of their game. I think we are seeing it with Roope."
Video: Montgomery on what Pitlick's injury means for Stars
Hintz scored in Monday's win over Arizona, tallying on the power play with a nifty redirection of a Jason Spezza shot. The goal scoring is nice, but Montgomery likes the growth he sees in other areas of Hintz's game.
"How hard he is on pucks in confrontational areas, whether it's getting pucks out inside the blue line, driving pucks wide at the offensive blue line," Montgomery said. "His attention to detail in the defensive zone has really been good since his second call-up. He is somebody that I rely on and trust in situations. Him winning battles in moments that give us momentum has really been an area that has improved in its consistency."
Hintz started the season on the Dallas roster, was assigned to the AHL after a couple of weeks and is now back for the third time. He senses the opportunity to carve out a regular spot with the Stars down some forwards due to injury.
"That's what I am working for every day. That's what I want to be," Hintz said. "I am trying to get better every day. I am getting more used to the game (in the NHL), and it comes when you play more."
Gurianov has been recalled four times this season, and Montgomery is still waiting for him to round out his game.
"Denis needs to add that acumen to his game that when he is not scoring that he is helping us win either with physicality or with attention to detail without the puck," Montgomery said. "A lot of people see value in just scoring points, and that's natural when you've done that your whole life like Denis has.
"He's got to understand that helping build momentum and us having four lines that are relentless is important. And if he focuses on those details, it is going to give him success, and he'll see that by the acknowledgment he gets from his teammates."
Video: ARI@DAL: Hintz redirects Spezza's pass past Kuemper
Line moves paying off for Stars
After the Kings game in which Pitlick was injured, Montgomery had to re-work his lines, and it's paid dividends.
Montgomery said he talked with GM Jim Nill and Nill suggested moving Jamie Benn to a line with Radek Faksa. So, that led to the Benn-Faksa-Blake Comeau trio and Montgomery moving Mattias Janmark to left wing with Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov for the Jan. 19 game against Winnipeg -- a 4-2 win for the Stars that started the team's current five-game winning streak.
"We were struggling at the time, and Jim said, 'Why don't we try Jamie Benn at left wing with Faksa,'" Montgomery said. "I wanted to move Jamie somewhere, I just didn't know where. And it was great because against Winnipeg, it gave a purpose to all those three to shut down the [Mark] Scheifele line and the coincidence that happened was it really seemed to spark Seggy and Rads with Janmark.
The Faksa line has been very good, and Benn has had some strong games since the change. Seguin has seven points (five goals, two assists in the last five games. Janmark has made the most of his opportunity. His ice time has gone up and he has scored goals in each of the last two games. And Montgomery can change things around when necessary.
"Now I have the flexibility to bounce back with (Benn, Seguin, and Radulov) and I've done that in the last two games in the last ten minutes or last five minutes," Montgomery said. "It's good because of that theory because you've got to be able to play with anyone. There are some games where I am going to go with Jamie, Seggy, and Rads to start games because of matchups."
Video: ARI@DAL: Seguin goes top shelf to restore Stars' lead
No league discipline for Ritchie
There will be no supplemental discipline for Stars forward Brett Ritchie, who received a boarding major and game misconduct for his hit on Coyotes defenseman Alex Goligoski in Monday's game.
Khudobin to get start at Nashville
Montgomery indicated that Anton Khudobin would get the start Thursday when the Stars play at Nashville Thursday. Khudobin has stopped 87 of 88 shots in two wins over the Predators in Nashville this season. Montgomery was asked if he has considered giving Ben Bishop a start in Nashville. The Predators are a potential first-round playoff opponent after all.
"You don't mess with it right now. We'll worry about that in the playoffs. Right now, we are just going to play Khudobin," Montgomery said with smile.
Video: DAL@NSH: Khudobin turns away Arvidsson, Johansen
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mark Stepneski has covered the Stars for DallasStars.com since 2012. Follow him on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.