Glen Gulutzan announced after last night's win against the Columbus Blue Jackets that backup Richard Bachman would get the start tonight in Buffalo. Despite the team's struggles on the second night of back-to-back games, the decision made sense considering the Stars have a big game coming up against the Kings on Sunday. It's logical that the Stars would play Bachman against Buffalo and rest Lehtonen for a game against a team they are competing directly with for playoff positioning.
Early this morning, however, Darryl Reaugh hinted that it was going to be Kari Lehtonen in net tonight instead. We were skeptical, since Gulutzan has clearly made it known the team was going with Bachman. Who are we to second guess Razor, as it turns out the brilliant analyst was indeed correct.
Word coming from morning skate up in Buffalo is that Kari Lehtonen will be back in net tonight against the Sabres. According to Glen Gulutzan (via Mike Heika), Lehtonen was feeling a bit under the weather last night but is good to go today. Hence the change.
``He was feeling a little sick there, and we thought (Bachman) would be the best decision here, but we've talked to him, and he's over it and 100 percent healthy and ready to go,'' Gulutzan said.
While playing Lehtonen in back to back games is risky -- and there's a big game looming on Sunday -- I think I can understand the reasoning behind this decision, even if it was apparently tied to his not feeling well after the game last night.
Find out why after the jump. We also have a brilliant game preview video by Razor.
The Stars are fighting for confidence and consistency right now, looking to build some momentum after a shaky win in Columbus. Since the mid point of December, the Stars have failed to string even a few good games and wins together, leaving them fighting for air in a very packed and crowded Western Conference.
The Stars got off to a big start last night in Columbus then fell apart in the second period. Once again, some adversity during the game shook their confidence and they nearly surrendered a three-goal lead in the second period. Luckily, they dug in during the third and a nifty empty-net goal by Jamie Benn masked what really was another inconsistent game with a lack of energy overall. The good news is they got the two points, and moved on.
It seems that Gulutzan is looking to maintain as much consistency from that game as possible, to build off a somewhat decent game by his team and a truly spectacular game by his goaltender. By keeping Lehtonen in net tonight, he's looking to keep that momentum rolling as much as possible and he's putting his best goaltender in net to do that.
The Stars are also 0-8-1 in the second half of back-to-back games this season, with the backup goaltender getting the start in all but one of those games. The Stars must, somehow, reverse that trend tonight and it could be argued that keeping your best goaltender in net is perhaps the best way to go about giving yourself the best chance at accomplishing that goal.
Lehtonen has played extraordinarily well the past three weeks or so, even in allowing four goals on Phoenix. While he hasn't been good enough to pull his team kicking and screaming to a win each night, he's at least played much more consistently. He's in a groove and the Stars are hoping to build off of that, especially with Lehtonen looking as confident as he was during that magical start to the season.
The tricky part, of course, is how the Stars handle Bachman and the upcoming game against the Kings. Telling Bachman he's starting tonight, then turning around and going back to Lehtonen is a tough thing for a backup goaltender -- although it could be argued that's part of his job. Bachman has shown good mental fortitude this season since taking the backup spot from Andrew Raycroft and I doubt this turnaround will affect him that much. Lehtonen was apparently not feeling well last night and Bachman was told to be ready to go. With Lehtonen feeling better, he's back in net. It makes sense.
There are two concerns, however, both having to do with Lehtonen's health.
The last time Lehtonen started the second game of a back to back, he injured his groin and was out for nearly a month. The Stars survived then, but losing him now would not go a long way to ensuring a fighting chance to making the postseason. So, let's hope that Lehtonen feels good and loose tonight against a Buffalo team that will certainly be challenging for the Stars.
The other issue is something we've seen the past few years but one I doubt we'll see become one this season. The Stars relied too much on their starting goaltender in the second half of the season while fighting for the playoffs, leading to a worn out goalie by the end of the season. Marty Turco set a franchise record for consecutive games started two years ago and Lehtonen played nearly every game after January last season.
The reasons for this primarily have to do with the fact the Stars had little confidence in the backup goaltender sitting on the bench. Raycroft lost the confidence of the coaches last season and was eventually sent to the AHL this year. Richard Bachman, now the backup for Lehtonen, has been much more consistent and has the full confidence of the coaches and the team -- I'd expect we'll see him in plenty of games moving forward and the Stars will have just as much a chance of winning with him.
It will be interesting to see how the Stars approach the game against the Kings with Lehtonen, but even if this was tied to whether he was feeling good or not -- this was the right move. Show confidence in your team and your goaltender and look to build upon the momentum of a win and play more consistently overall.
Grossman - Daley
Goligoski - Robidas
Larsen - Fistric
Larsen and Fistric have played together this season before, with mixed results. Hopefully Fistric's physicality allows Larsen to play with more confidence on offense. We'll see.
Finally, Razor has a very...interesting...preview up for tonight's game. Check it out below.