Just a quick note as we all prepare to chow down on some turkey...
Watching last night's game against Ottawa, with the Dallas Stars blocking shots for 60 full minutes and the defense playing their gaps perfectly and the Stars basically doing their best impression of 1999, I started to feel frustrated. We've been watching the Stars for nearly two months now and I've only seen that sort of performance from this team perhaps three times. Twice have been in front of Andrew Raycroft.
It's natural. Kari Lehtonen is obviously back to the level of play he enjoyed in 2006 when he led the Atlanta Thrashers to the playoffs. But nearly five years later, the NHL is certainly a different landscape and it takes an incredibly magical and near-impossible performance by the goaltender to single handedly lead his team to victory. Talent in the NHL is at an all time high and it takes a team effort to win night after night. So thinking that Kari Lehtonen alone can bail out his team is a recipe for disaster.
The Stars, under Marc Crawford, are going to allow a high number of shots on most nights. That's just a result of the aggressive style he's preaching and with defensemen constantly pinching there are going to be times the Stars allow rushes the other way. Yet last night the Stars proved that they still have the ability to get back, to track the trailing man, to limit those second chances and to effectively stifle any push the opponent could muster.
You wonder if the Stars get complacent with Lehtonen in net, as they know that 99% of the time he's going to be able to atone for any mistake they make. That shouldn't excuse them from playing the same level of inspired defensive play we witnessed last night, either. If the Stars are able to limit the chances off the rebound, to cover the backside of the net and to actually block shots -- not just deflect them -- then suddenly Lehtonen becomes a much, much better goaltender.
It's a team sport. Lehtonen can't do it all by himself.