After eight weeks of being sidelined with a knee injury, Marc Methot could potentially return tomorrow. Where will the Dallas Stars fit him in a crammed defensive lineup?
Having too much of a good thing can be bad, and the Dallas Stars know that.
Over the past few years, the Stars seem to have struggled with having too much offensive talent. With a limited number of starting spots, the mix between veteran skaters and young, thriving prospects proved to be a tad excessive. As a result, some changes had to be made to keep everything aligned.
Now the Stars seem to have an issue on defense as well.
After spending the past eight weeks recovering from surgery on an injured knee, Dallas defenseman Marc Methot finally looks ready to return to the lineup. The Stars traded for Methot this past June in a deal with the Vegas Golden Knights.
He played every game for the Stars this season up until November 6 and has been on the IR ever since. The initial projection was four to six weeks, but recovery time has taken longer than expected. Still, there is supposed to be a good chance that Methot is ready for tomorrow’s game against New Jersey.
But where will he fit in the lineup? This could end up being the most difficult question to answer so far this season.
Methot is a good veteran defender. He’s a stay-at-home caliber defenseman that plays a solid game in the defensive zone. He has yet to tally a point this season, though that is typical for defensive defensemen. His possession numbers are not terrific by any means, but he finished the first part of the year with a -1.
Though his stats may not look it, Methot is still a very smart and capable veteran defender that can help the Dallas lineup both at even strength and on the penalty kill.
But where is he going to slide into the lineup? It’s a tough question, and that’s primarily because of the current defensive success that Dallas is having.
When Methot initially went out with his injury, it left Dallas with six defensemen on their roster. Esa Lindell, John Klingberg, Dan Hamhuis, Greg Pateryn, Stephen Johns, and Jamie Oleksiak were the only starters Dallas had to choose from after exiting training camp with nine NHL-ready defenders. So it was pretty slim pickings.
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In addition to that, the Stars defense wasn’t looking too hot. They had struggled in the first month of the season to play consistently and with structure and gave up three or more goals in eight of their first 15 games. That’s not an ideal number for a defense trying to be much better than they were last year.
With the Methot injury, Dallas recalled Julius Honka for the second time in mid-November in an attempt to give themselves another option on the blue line.
After a few weeks of juggling defensive pairings and trying to find a happy medium, the Stars finally seem to have found a unit that works.
Dan Hamhuis – Greg Pateryn
Stephen Johns – Julius Honka
These three pairings have given the Stars a consistently solid effort in each game and are buying the team opportunities to win. Dallas is confident in this group and even traded Jamie Oleksiak to the Pittsburgh Penguins, which cut the number of defenders down to an ideal six.
But now Methot is back, and he needs a spot. Though Dallas shouldn’t have to make any changes in terms of roster reduction, someone will likely come out of the lineup. So, who will Ken Hitchcock scratch?
The most likely scenario is that he moves Honka to the “seventh defenseman” role and slots Methot in no. 6’s spot. But do you really want to move Honka after he’s played 11 straight games, been a possession monster, posted a +2, and is continuing to develop into a strong NHL defender while skating limited minutes?
Still, it’s probably the route Dallas will take. For all the #FreeHonka people out there, I’m sorry.
Once Methot is back in the lineup, though, where will he play? Lindell and Klingberg are providing a quality top pairing for Dallas and are skating heavy minutes both at even strength and on special teams. They provide a great two-way balance for Dallas and generate plenty of offensive pressure.
Just below them, you have Hamhuis and Pateryn, who are arguably just as good together as the top pairing. The Stars have found a gold mine with no. 2 and no. 29, with both guys playing a defensive-centered role. Each can play heavy minutes on the penalty kill and give Dallas a shutdown presence in the defensive zone. It’s gotten to the point where Hitchcock will even call on his second pairing more often than he does his first.
So do you really gamble and break either of these two pairings up, especially when they are both giving you consistently solid outings? It’s going to be a tough decision either way.
If Hitchcock wants to keep his top two pairings and hopefully continue to see success from them, he can always put Methot on the third pairing with Stephen Johns. The two have played together some this year and compliment each other’s playing styles well.
All in all, it will be interesting to see where Hitchcock slots no. 33 upon his return to the lineup. One wrong move could be disastrous for the entire defensive corps. But on the bright side, Methot’s return will signal a reborn sense of competition. The window for error will be very small now considering the Stars have seven defenders to choose from. Hopefully that will lead to consistent results.