"He's the backbone of our team," said Jordie Benn during a quick interview between periods tonight. The Dallas Stars would ride Kari Lehtonen's strongest performance of the season on their way to a 2-0 win in Los Angeles against the Kings tonight. It is Lehtonen's first shutout of the season.
Playing on the second game of a back-to-back set, the Stars played sluggishly for much of the first 40 minutes of the game. Lehtonen was there when called upon to mop up the chances the Kings had -- and there were plenty of them.
The Stars had another game where they had only five shots on goal in the first period. They looked like a team that had played and traveled last night. As the game progressed, they seemed to find their legs and the defensive game in front of Lehtonen stepped up.
Here's how the Stars shutout the Kings on their home ice and gave them just their third loss at home this season. (Fun fact: two of those losses have now come at the hands of the Dallas Stars.)
Lehtonen was the by far the biggest reason the Stars got out of the first period with the game scoreless. He had several large saves on the two penalty kill situations. He tracked the puck really well, and controlled rebounds reasonably as well. He got better support in front of him than has been seen in the last few games. The penalty kill saw guys like Eric Nystrom laying down and blocking timely shots and actual faceoff wins on some key draws. That, combined with Lehtonen's saves at big moments, is a recipe for penalty killing success.
The Stars would get their first chance on the power play after Dustin Brown crashed the front of the net and ran into Lehtonen, drawing a goaltender interference call. Brown then got up to his usual antics trying to draw the equalizer, running into Brenden Dillon and then spinning in a circle like he was trying out for the Moscow Ballet. Dillon, to his credit, did not engage to give the Kings the equalizing call -- quite a mature move from the rookie defensemen, who continues to impress.
The majority of the second period the Stars were vastly outplayed by the Kings. The Stars spent most of the first two thirds of the period committing egregious neutral zone turnovers mixed with an uncanny inability to get out of their own zone. Most likely trying to avoid icing calls, the Stars players were passing out to the blueline too softly and never actually getting it into the neutral zone.
Because of their mostly defensive end zone time, the shots on goal for the Stars was starting to get very disconcerting, with only eight shots on goal through half of the game. It's kind of hard to score when you don't have pucks going towards the net. They seemed to figure it out, however, and started applying some good pressure for the last five minutes of the middle frame.
Really the first two frames of the game could be summed up in one phrase: Keep Calm and Kari On. The netminder continued his spectacular game with some snappy glove saves and withstood the onslaught of Kings quality chances to give the Stars a chance to win it in the last period of the game. On the road, a tied game at the end of the second is not a bad spot to be in -- especially with the way things have gone for the Stars recently.
Jaromir Jagr got the Stars on the board after a hardworking shift by Jamie Benn in the defensive zone. Less than five minutes later, Loui Eriksson, Alex Goligoski, and Ray Whitney executed a beautiful tick-tack-toe goal after Cody Eakin took a hard hit to spring them loose.
What really made the third period special was the lock down they put on defensively to preserve the two goal lead. The Kings would have a lot of chances at the end of the game to try to get back in the game, but the Stars committed to a team defense to keep them off the board.
The good, the bad, and the ugly
- Kari Lehtonen is some kind of awesome, isn't he? A lot is said about the number of shots the big Finn sees game in and game out, but he seems to thrive the most in games where he sees a lot of traffic.
- Derek Roy was victim of another early whistle when the puck was loose around Quick's net. He wasn't too thrilled about it either. Seems this is the third game recently that the whistles have come out early in scrums around the opposing nets.
- Brenden Morrow had several nice drives to the net in the burst of offensive pressure from the Stars near the end of the second period.
- Jamie Benn started the game off being terrible on the faceoff dot. At one point, his faceoff percentage was just 29%. He decided to start getting a bit crafty and instead of trying to win the faceoffs straight up, he started to just slap the puck forward straight at Quick in the offensive zone circles.
- The shorthanded chances against these last few games for the Stars is a trend that needs to change for the better. The penalty kill which felt so automatic earlier this season has still been doing well, but if you're giving up quality chances against on the man advantage some of those are bound to go in (see: Avalanche, Colorado.)
- Loui Eriksson's points production has been more on the pace Stars fans are used to seeing, with 15 points in his last 19 games.
- Philip Larsen played for the first time in a week. He did not have a noticeable game, either good or bad, which to me says he did his job just fine.
Defending Big D's Three Stars
1 - Kari Lehtonen, DAL
2 - Jaromir Jagr, DAL
3 - Jonathan Quick, LAK