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Gulutzan Makes Special Teams, Coaching Adjustments

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

This is the fourth and final installment in a series of articles after having visited with Stars Head Coach Glen Gulutzan, previewing the club’s various position groups, special teams and overall team outlook.

Special teams were admittedly an issue for the Stars last season, and turning that area around is a key for the team in 2012-13.

The power play drew most of the attention, and it’s easy to see why. The Stars ranked last in the league at 13.5 percent and scored a league-low 33 power play goals.

While the Stars’ offseason acquisitions of Jaromir Jagr, Ray Whitney and Derek Roy should help the power play, Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said turning it around isn’t just about the personnel on the ice.

“We have to take more shots. It’s pretty simple, we have to move more and take more shots and work a little harder on our power play,” said Gulutzan. “There’s no magic formula to a power play, no magic setup. I watched every power play in the Western Conference and there is nothing magical going on – it’s guys working hard, shooting the puck and having guys in front of the net. It’s a pretty simple thing, and letting the skill take over.”

The Stars’ penalty kill ranked 13th in the league last season at 82.8 percent, and but lost Steve Ott, Adam Burish, Radek Dvorak and Sheldon Souray, all of whom logged significant minutes while the team was shorthanded. Other players will need to fill those holes this season.

While the penalty kill’s rank was respectable, the numbers were misleading. That’s because the Stars ranked 22nd in power play goals allowed at 52. That brings up a key issue, and that is how many times they were shorthanded.

The Stars were shorthanded 303 times, which ranked 27th in the league. They were on the power play 244 times, which ranked 28th. Do the math, and the Stars were a minus-59 in power play opportunities versus times shorthanded. Gulutzan said that has to change.

“The one thing we are going to control this year is how many power plays we’re generating and how many we are taking,” Gulutzan said. “If you look at goals against and goals for, power play goals for, power play goals against and the minutes you are spending on each, if we are going be minus-80 or minus-90 minutes or take 40 or 50 more penalties, then all of our numbers are going to be skewed. Your goals against, your shots against, everything is skewed.

“Discipline is a huge factor in specialty teams. Not only have we relooked at the specialty teams, and maybe simplified them in certain ways, but discipline is a key. If we are only going to get one or two power plays a night, it is kind of hard to get going. And if you are going to kill four, then it’s hard to get your power play going, especially if your ‘PP’ guys are killing your penalties. We need to be a better disciplined club right from the start. That’s a huge area of emphasis for us.”

Behind the bench

The Stars did some juggling among the coaching ranks this offseason. Willie Desjardins, who spent the last two seasons as associate coach of the Stars, has taken over as the head of the coach of the Texas Stars, Dallas’ AHL affiliate.

Joining the staff in Dallas this season as assistant coach will be Curt Fraser, who brings a wealth of experience. He’s spent the past four seasons as head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins, the AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings. He’s been a head coach in the NHL (Atlanta Thrashers), an assistant in the NHL, coached in Europe and played in the NHL as well.

“He’s a quality individual. If you check his reputation around the league – and this isn’t just me throwing it out there – he has an impeccable reputation,” said Gulutzan. “He’s played the game, and he’s played the game very hard. He coaches the game offensively and sees the game very well, which is a good fit for us. He brings some of that experience of a head coach in the NHL, as an assistant coach in the NHL and as a head coach in Europe. For the first couple of weeks that we’ve hunkered down here, he’s been a tremendous help to Paul (Jerrard) and me. Willie was too, but the more of these elite coaches you get exposed to, you just can’t help but learn. I think our game is going to move forward with Curt.”

Jerrard returns for his second season as an assistant coach.

“Paul will handle the penalty kill, which we thought he did a good job with last year, and the D, which is his specialty in my mind. He has a good rapport with our defense,” said Gulutzan. “Curt is going to be in charge of the power play, his specialty is offense. His teams were very offensive. I am going to watch the gauges and take the entire five-on-five game and four-on-four game, and make sure everything is going in the right direction.”

Even though each coach will focus on particular areas, Gulutzan said decision making will be a collaborative process.

“Three guys are working on their specialties, will bring it to the table for discussion, we’ll re-tweak it once everybody puts in their two cents and we agree. We try to get it as good as we can,” Gulutzan said. “It’s like homework – we get it together as a group, the one guy tidies it up and hands it in. We’re all on the same page.”

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