FRISCO — Before the Stars team plane departed for a preseason game in St. Louis on Monday packed with a host of players either destined for the AHL or firmly on the NHL roster bubble, a more impactful situation was unfolding on the practice ice at the Comerica Center.
The Stars were practicing special teams for the first time during training camp, unveiling a pair of power play units that features more skill than Dallas has had in recent years.
On the first unit, John Klingberg manned the point, Alexander Radulov the net, Joe Pavelski the slot and Jason Robertson and Roope Hintz the right and left flanks, respectively. On the second unit, Ryan Suter was up top, with Jamie Benn at the net-front, Denis Gurianov as the bumper, Miro Heiskanen in the right circle and Wyatt Johnston in the left.
Johnston was a placeholder during practice for Tyler Seguin, who did not skate because he was sick, coach Rick Bowness said.
“He woke up this morning not feeling good,” Bowness said. “The world we live in today, stay home.”
Seguin’s absence aside, those could be the power play units the Stars use when they start the regular season Oct. 14 in Madison Square Garden against the Rangers. When juxtaposed with last year’s power play units, these ones are drastically different.
Radek Faksa is no longer needed on the man advantage. Neither is Esa Lindell or Joel Kiviranta. All three of those players are there to ensure that the Stars don’t have to give PP minutes to Ty Dellandrea, Tanner Kero, Justin Dowling, Sami Vatanen and Joel L’Esperance, like Dallas had to last season.
Despite the injuries that caused an upheaval in the Stars lineup, Dallas ranked seventh in the league last season in goals per 60 minutes on the power play. The Stars, however, were 14th in the league from Jan. 30 until the end of the season, throwing out the unbelievably hot start during the first homestand of the season.
Now, the Stars have a roster with plenty of options they want to give PP minutes to.
“The potential is two really good units,” Bowness said. “Ryan Suter is going to help us back there. Miro looked really good on the half-wall, we know what the other guys can do. We expect to have one of the top-ranked power plays in the league and we’re also working on our penalty kill at the same time.”
The units themselves are fluid, as players rotate around the zone to retrieve pucks and support teammates, they will move out of their assigned role. It’s something Bowness actually wants from his players: the ability to read off their teammates and counter aggressive penalty kills.
Plus, it helps that so many of the Stars can fill different roles around the ice. For example, Heiskanen can run the point or be on the flank. Radulov can rip one-timers, or he can be a bother at the net-front. Pavelski can be effective at the net-front, in the slot or in the circle.
But the personnel groupings themselves? Stars coaches met two weeks before training camp to assemble the groups, and they intend to keep them together as long as they can.
“If we don’t get the results that we’re looking for, not only in terms of goal scoring but in terms of puck movement and chemistry, then we look to make changes,” Bowness said. “We’re going to try to keep the same five guys together as long as we can.”
Making progress: Roope Hintz did not participate in battle drills along the boards during Monday’s practice as he continues to recover from offseason groin surgery. He did, however, participate in power play and 3-on-3 drills during the second half of practice.
“We’re probably being overly cautious, but that’s the right way to approach it when we have, after tonight, six more [preseason] games and a couple more weeks,” Bowness said. “That’s the right way to approach it with Roope. He’ll let us know when he’s ready to take that next step and get involved with everything. The fact that he came out today for the second half was encouraging.”
Briefly: Riley Tufte scored the only Dallas goal as the Stars opened their preseason schedule with a 2-1 loss in overtime Monday at St. Louis. Braden Holtby and Jake Oettinger split the game in net and allowed a goal apiece.