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In search of chemistry, scoring, Stars won't break from 'identity'

As Montgomery shuffles lines to promote better offense, he still needs Dallas to remain good defensively

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

FRISCO, Texas -- One of the most significant jobs of any hockey coach is player deployment, and Jim Montgomery has had his fair share of challenges this season.

The Stars' bench boss has been given two new veteran forwards, who were among the top players on their previous teams, and is trying to combine them with the three leading scorers Dallas has had for a few seasons now along with two younger players who might be demanding more ice time.

It creates daily decisions on how to combine these players and how much ice time to dole out, and Friday's practice showed just how difficult those choices can be.

 

[GAME DAY GUIDE: Everything you need to know for Stars vs. Penguins]

 

If lines from practice are any indication, Dallas on Saturday could have rookie Denis Gurianov on the right wing with Tyler Seguin, while Alexander Radulov plays on a line with Radek Faksa, and Joe Pavelski plays on a line with Justin Dowling. That's not how you would normally draw it up, but Montgomery still is trying to find the right combinations with his forward group.

In recent games, he has combined Corey Perry with Roope Hintz and Jamie Benn, and also played Radulov with Faksa. Now, he wants to move Gurianov into Pavelski's spot to possibly get the speedy Gurianov more minutes with Seguin.

Video: Montgomery on Stars' win streak, how they can improve

"We think there is chemistry on the Hintz line, and Denis looks like he's ready to jump off the page," Montgomery said. "We haven't seen great chemistry with Seggy yet, so it's an opportunity for him (Gurianov) to develop chemistry. Faksy and Rads played well two games ago, and Dowling and Cogliano, we'd like to see what Pavelski can do with them."

The Stars on the season rank last in scoring at 2.08 goals per game. They rank 30th in shots on goal per game at 28.0. And they rank 28th in power play success at 8.8 percent. Seguin has six points in 12 games (two goals, four assists), Benn has five points (one goal, four assists), Radulov has four points (one goal, three assists) and Pavelski has three points (two goals, one assist).

Last game, Montgomery didn't include Radulov in a 5-on-3 power play and reduced his time on ice to 12:23.

"Like our team, we all need to be better, he needs to be better," Montgomery said. "He's just one of us."

Coaches have talked to Radulov about a two-minute shift he had on the power play against Ottawa and also are concerned with the fact he has taken six minor penalties. Anaheim got its only goal on a Radulov penalty Thursday and Radulov led the team in minor penalties last season with 27.

"We've had video meetings and talked about the two-minute shift the previous game on the power play," Montgomery said. "He's a very proud individual and we all know how talented a hockey player and how much he's going to help us, but you just can't go off the team page."

That could be one of the reasons for the possible line shuffling Saturday.

Video: ANA@DAL: Gurianov roofs backhander for terrific goal

Another reason is that Hintz and Gurianov need to get more minutes. Gurianov scored twice on Thursday and played just 10:52. He and Hintz can help drive speed, and that's something that could help get Seguin going, Montgomery said.

"It enhances that relentless that we want," he said. "They have the ability to quick strike offensively and defensively, and create more turnovers, create more possession, and create more odd-man rushes."

And that's the reason for the tweaking. Still, the lines have to do that while maintaining a system that has helped the goalies allow three goals total in the past three games. Benn has helped drive possession on a line with Hintz and Perry, but he has just one assist in that time. Still, his physical presence and smart play have been crucial in balancing offense and defense.

"I think his last three games have been his best three games and probably been the most consistent skating games and physical games he's had," Montgomery said of Benn. "I think he's feeling good about his game and we need him to continue to build upon it. Like everybody else, he wants to produce more, and we want to produce more, just the same thing with Pavelski, Radulov, Seggy.

"It doesn't matter who, we all know we need to score more goals, we just can't get away from our identity to do it."

 

Stars (4-7-1) vs. Penguins (6-5-0)

Saturday, 7 p.m. CT

Where: American Airlines Center

TV: FOX Sports Southwest, ESPN+

Radio: The Ticket 1310-AM, 96.7-FM

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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