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Looking to score goals? For Stars, it's about getting to 'that hard area'

Ritchie's goal at Arizona stands as a great example of what Dallas' depth forwards should be doing more

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Roope Hintz and Brett Ritchie executed the kind of play Saturday that can serve as a template for the Stars going forward.

With Dallas scrambling to overcome a 3-0 deficit at Arizona, Hintz took the puck wide before driving to the net. When the puck, Hintz and Ritchie arrived in front of Darcy Kuemper at just the right time, Ritchie was able to poke in a rebound that gave the Stars life in what was eventually a 3-2 loss.

While the Stars didn't get a point in the standings, they definitely got a lesson plan going forward.


[BISHOP 'CLOSE' TO RETURN: Stars goaltender Ben Bishop to miss third straight game because of upper-body injury]


"The whole part of it is we need to get more players to drive pucks wide and get it to the net like Roope Hintz does," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said. "And then (Ritchie) does a great job of following it up and getting to that hard area to score goals."

The problem is that was just the fourth goal of the season for Ritchie in 32 games. Hintz has three in 31 games. Denis Gurianov has one in 18 games. So while the line has been creating scoring chances in recent games, Montgomery is going to try a few tweaks for Tuesday's game at Florida (6 p.m. CT; FS-SW; KTCK).

Gurianov is going to come out of the lineup and Valeri Nichushkin is going to jump back in. Ritchie will move onto a line with Jason Spezza and Andrew Cogliano, while Nichushkin will play on a line with Radek Faksa and Mattias Janmark.

That seems odd for a team on a 5-1-1 roll, but Montgomery said the coaching staff agrees they have to find ways to create goals.

Video: DAL@ARI: Ritchie jams home rebound

Montgomery said the coaching staff has liked some of the chemistry between some forward pairs, but also added that the same principles should apply no matter what line a player is on.

"We need to be consistently penetrating the middle of the ice and stopping at the net and have balance and a triangle in the offensive zone with our forwards," Montgomery said.

Asked if the Ritchie goal was a perfect example, Montgomery said yes, but …

"We looked at several clips where we could have done that again," the coach said. "It's a balance we haven't learned to perfect yet, but we've gotten much better at it."

Ritchie said he definitely feels like he's around more goal opportunities lately, but like the entire team, he has to be more consistent. He said the stark contrast between a revved-up arena in Nashville Thursday and a quiet one in Arizona Saturday may have affected the Stars' emotional level -- and that can't happen.

"We were coming off an emotional game in Nashville and the building was rocking, and we come in here and it's obviously not quite the same atmosphere, and we just have to find a way to match our intensity," he said Saturday. "We've got to learn from our mistakes. We're going to have a lot of emotional games and a lot of games with teams that are out of the playoffs toward the end of the season, and we have to find a way to battle in every one."

It's a big lesson with individual applications. Nichushkin has no goals in 39 games this season and been a healthy scratch for the past three because he has not been consistently effective. Gurianov is getting a healthy scratch because he seems to have hit a wall.

Video: Montgomery updates injury status of Bishop, Polak

So the coaching staff is juggling several players who are suffering similar maladies and trying to find some spark somewhere.

"I'm looking at players that just aren't confident right now, and what I mean by that is I thought Denis took a couple of changes where he wasn't having an impact on a shift and he looked like he wanted to change," Montgomery said of Gurianov, who has one point in his past 13 games. "When a player is looking like that, he needs to rest and watch a game, and then when he gets the opportunity (to get back in), realize that the game is not as hard as he's mentally making it."

Montgomery is hoping Nichushkin has learned some things while sitting out recent games. He said that having organizational coach Vern Fiddler work with Nichushkin in practice has been helpful.

"He's had plenty of opportunities to have at least five goals this year, it just hasn't gone in," Montgomery said. "It's hard. We try not to talk about the results with him, we try to talk about the process, and Vern Fiddler has done a great job of working with him getting to those areas for tips screens and wraps."

Now, he has to put that preparation during practice into in a game -- and he's not alone. The plays to be made are out there, but the Stars depth forwards have to start making them.

"I think it's mental preparation," Montgomery said. "A lot of people see value just in scoring points, and that's natural when you've done that your whole life like Denis has. He has to understand helping build momentum and having four lines that are relentless is important. If he focuses on the details, he's going to have success."

Which, of course, means eventually scoring some goals.

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 and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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