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Hintz, Klingberg could give confident Stars even more firepower

The forward and defenseman could return for Dallas against the Blackhawks after missing time with lower-body injuries

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

FRISCO, Texas -- On paper, Roope Hintz is a heck of a hockey player.

Listed at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, he is by far the heaviest forward on the team. If you watch him skate, he is arguably the fastest player on the Stars. His hands can typically keep up with his feet, and he's very dedicated to two-way play.

So why was it so tough for Hintz to crack the NHL last season?

In a word, confidence.

 

[GAME DAY GUIDE: What you need to know for Stars vs. Blackhawks]

 

On paper, John Klingberg is one of the most effective defensemen in the NHL. Before this season, he was among the top blueliners in terms of points, plus-minus and time on ice since joining the NHL in 2014.

So why was he statistically behind all of his normal numbers to start this year, tallying just four points (one goal, three assists) and ranking minus-10 in 17 games?

Video: Practice: Montgomery gives injury updates

In a word, possibly, confidence.

On paper, the Stars this season had the backing of a lot of hockey experts as a contender for the Stanley Cup. They took eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis to overtime of Game 7 in the second round of the playoffs last season, added veterans Joe Pavelski, Corey Perry and Andrej Sekera, and also were expecting bigger seasons from players like Miro Heiskanen, Jason Dickinson and Hintz.

So how in the heck did they start the season 1-7-1?

In a word, definitely, confidence.

It's an interesting thread, as both Hintz and Klingberg might be ready to return to the lineup Saturday after battling injuries for the past three weeks. Hintz has missed seven games with a lower body injury, while Klingberg has missed six. In that span, they have been able to watch the Stars go 6-0-1 while scoring at a clip of 4.1 goals per game.

So as they attempt to step into the lineup, it's a different type of team that will greet them.

Video: Practice: Hintz on his injury recovery

"I think it came slowly but surely through the whole 12-1-1 here," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said of the transition to a confident offensive team. "Early on, it wasn't very pretty -- we were winning with goaltending and defense. And now, I think we're a more well-rounded team."

Klingberg said he has noticed. Montgomery said a couple of weeks ago that he took some blame for the slow offensive start, as he and the coaching staff were stressing defense at the cost of allowing the players to make some plays. Klingberg said he has seen the team play a more relaxed style in recent outings.

"What I see from the pressbox is we have a lot more confidence with the puck right now. That's why you see more goals," Klingberg said. "We still play pretty solid defensively, but we're a lot more aggressive with the puck. I think that comes from making plays and having confidence.

"The more you do it, the easier it becomes."

Klingberg is clearly one of the more relaxed players on the team in puck possession. However, his numbers showed early in the season that he might have been overthinking the game. Instead of walking the fine line, he was either too aggressive or too conservative.

"I do think you need to try things," he said when asked if he pulled back to hard on the reins in his first 17 games. "You have to be able to know that not every pass or every play is going to work out, but that you can recover if it doesn't. I think it's easier to score goals if you're making those plays."

Video: Practice: Klingberg discusses return to Stars lineup

That was a lesson Hintz discovered last season. Then a 22-year-old rookie, Hintz was sent down twice before he stuck on the NHL roster and started to develop confidence in his skills. He finished by leading the team with five goals in 13 playoff games and then started this season with nine goals in 16 games before he was injured.

"When you have confidence, you make plays," Hintz said. "You keep the puck, you are more sure of yourself, you make plays. It makes a difference. It's good."

The Stars have sort of followed Hintz's path. They know they have the talent on paper, but then it's a matter of making that ability play out on the ice. Montgomery said it's embracing the belief.

"We're trying to keep pushing and let the players feel good about themselves, but also hammer on the details," he said.

"We're playing together. We're playing faster, because we're together. And then, we're playing the right way. You get rewarded for that."

Sometimes, it just takes time.

 

Stars (13-8-2) vs. Blackhawks (9-9-4)

Saturday, 7 p.m. CT

Where: American Airlines Center

TV/radio: FOX Sports Southwest; 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, and listen to his podcast.

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