Consistency. It is a word that has been thrown around the Dallas Stars organization for the past few seasons. Whether it is in their play or the faces in the lineup, consistency has escaped this team. However, over the past two weeks, that consistency has been discovered as the Stars have won five of their last six games while rolling out the same lineup all the way through.
Stars’ Top Line Sets the Tone
The trio of Roope Hintz, Jason Robertson, and Joe Pavelski has established themselves as the top line dating back to last season. After a slow start, they have found their game lately, leading the charge for this team. Their success continued last night as Pavelski scored two goals in 19 seconds early in the first period to push Dallas into the driver’s seat at home against the Colorado Avalanche. The trio finished with four points on the night, setting the tone throughout the rest of the lineup.
The offense provided by this top line is important not only on the scoreboard but for the rest of the lines. When they are playing well, it takes pressure off of the older skilled players while giving Rick Bowness the freedom to find the best fits with the remaining nine forwards. After some shuffling early in the season, he has found the chemistry they have been searching for.
For Dallas, There Is No “Bottom” of the Lineup
The remainder of the lineup has benefitted from the success of the top line. In fact, while many teams have a large dropoff between lines, the Stars believe they have four that can play with anybody in the league.
“It’s five guys working well together, and the lines have settled in, and they have a little chemistry right now. Guys are working and that’s kind of the result.”
Jamie Benn was moved back to center where he found success towards the end of last season. He has found his game with three goals in the last five games while his emergence has brought out the best in new linemates Michael Raffl and Denis Gurianov, who have been playing their most consistent hockey of the season. Gurianov also added a power-play goal last night to extend the Stars’ lead to 3-0 in the second period.
The remaining two lines are where most of the changes have been made. Tyler Seguin struggled to find success with Benn and Alexander Radulov early in the season as Bowness continued to try to bring out his best game. Now, with Benn moving back to center and the success of the other forwards, Seguin has seen reduced minutes as he plays alongside Luke Glendening and Joel Kiviranta in a slightly different role. While the offense has not been there much for Seguin or his line, they have played well overall and continue to allow Bowness to roll out four lines on a nightly basis.
“We put Jamie at center and it affects all of their ice time. Jamie has been doing a great job at center, so there’s no reason to take that away. Roope [Hintz] was our best forward again, and [Radek Faksa] does so many good things it cuts into other people’s ice time. We said when we did it, as soon as you put Jamie in the middle, somebody’s ice time is going to be affected.”
– Stars head coach Rick Bowness
Radek Faksa is the final piece down the middle for a Stars team that now finds themselves deep at the center position. Faksa had centered the well-known “F-C-C” line with Andrew Cogliano and Blake Comeau for years before Cogliano signed with the San Jose Sharks and Comeau was dropped down to the American Hockey League this season. Now, playing alongside a far more offensive group with rookie Jacob Peterson and veteran Alexander Radulov, Faksa has been given a bigger chance to use his full two-way game.
Last but not least, the defense has also benefitted from more consistent pairings. On the back end, John Klingberg and Ryan Suter have finally found their chemistry while Miro Heiskanen and Esa Lindell have done the same. With a rotation of Andrej Sekera, Joel Hanley, and Jani Hakapnaa rounding out the group, the consistency has made its way through the lineup from top to bottom, leading to a far better overall game for Dallas.
Stars’ Consistency Leads to Results
With this consistency, has come results. Dallas has found their game, winning five of the last six and outscoring their opponents by a wide margin. They continue to dominate on the faceoff dot, limit scoring chances against, and finish on the other end of the ice. If you were to look back to the early days of October and November, none of these would have been true. Dallas was consistently outshot, outchanced, outscored, and needed everything to go their way in order to find the back of the net.
Along with chemistry, this consistent lineup has increased trust throughout, allowing Dallas to play to their true identity. They smother their opponents both on the forecheck and in the defensive zone, their goaltending has been spectacular, making the big saves when needed, and they have been finding goals off turnovers and in transition on the other end. Does that remind you of anything? Perhaps it resembles the Stars team that charged through three opponents on their way to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final in Edmonton?
“I think it just goes to show how well we’ve been playing defensively,” Stars’ goaltender Jake Oettinger said when asked about wins over the Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche. “If you look at the scoring chances, I don’t think either team has had a ton. Especially teams like that, it seems like they get a few freebies every game, they’re that good. But we haven’t given any of that, and the guys have done such a good job committing to defense. I think, if you look back two years ago when we went to the finals, we’re playing like that team right now, and we just have to keep that going.”
As the Stars continue to make up ground in the standings, the goal will be to continue to play with the same intensity and consistency for 60 minutes each night. If they can do that, they will be able to build more chemistry and will win a lot of hockey games throughout the remainder of the season.
Sam Nestler is a Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the NHL and NCAA. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!