I’ve been journeying around the NHL for the last few days, so I thought it would be nice to head back to Texas for a little while, with an update on the Dallas Stars.
And they might be the hottest 10-8-2 hockey team in the world right now.
The offense is repeatedly lighting the lamp – they’ve scored three or more goals in 12 of their last 13 games. The defense has elevated its play in the last couple of weeks, lowering its goals against average and increasing its physicality. The power play is shaping up, and the team has started to turn away from its usual hunger for the penalty box. Everything has been clicking the last few of weeks, except for one very important thing: goaltending.
But the cavalry is on the way for the Stars. Kari Lehtonen is expected to make his return Thursday night against the Edmonton Oilers in Dallas. The team has needed his presence desperately since he went down with a groin injury in a Feb. 15 game at Vancouver. Lehtonen owns a 7-2-1 record with a 2.12 GAA and a .934 save percentage. Compare his numbers with the combined ones of platoon backups Cris Nilstorp and Richard Bachmann (3-6-1, 3.50 GAA, .872 save percentage) and you can clearly see what the Stars have been missing the past few games. The bottom line is that while the offense has been scoring in bunches, far too many pucks have also been getting by these goaltenders. The Stars were just 3-2-1 in the six games without Lehtonen, and they should be fortunate for that result. When you are giving up 3.5 goals per game it is almost impossible to win consistently.
With their No. 1 goalie back in net, the Stars have a great chance to shoot (pun intended) up the Western Conference standings. Since the start of the season, they have been one of the league’s deepest offensive teams, characterized by production from guys on all four lines. But now the younger players – Cody Eakin, Antoine Roussel, Reilly Smith, and Brenden Dillon have really stepped up their production. They are all getting a nice chunk of ice time every night and are being put into advantageous spots in the lineup that help showcase their abilities. I haven’t even mentioned the Stars’ best player, Jamie Benn, who at 23-years-old is also one of the youngest players on the team.
The Stars’ recent surge has them ranked in the top 15 league-wide in every offensive category, with the defense also improving. Coach Glen Gulutzan has done an excellent job of mixing his lines with veteran leadership and youthful talent. This effective combination has been the reason behind Dallas’ hot play as of late.