I wasn't able to post my detailed thoughts and analysis of the 3-2 loss in Game 2, but as the NHL playoffs return to Dallas I wanted to share some general observations on the series so far -- through two games at least -- as the Anaheim Ducks prepare to take on the Dallas Stars and what should be an amped up home crowd.
There was a bit of discussion around Kari Lehtonen and his performance through two games behind the scenes at DBD headquarters, which led to this fairly brilliant breakdown by Josh Lile on Saturday on how the Stars goaltender must be demonstrably better moving forward if the Stars have any hopes of winning this series -- or even being competitive.
Now, this isn't to say that I believe Lehtonen should be let off the hook or that we should not be expecting better from him; in fact, some of the criticism here is based on our expectations from what we've seen from Lehtonen in four seasons and how we know he can be much better. As a goaltender myself, however, I think I can understand a bit why Lehtonen seems to be off his game and so different than the goaltender that was nothing short of brilliant the final ten games of the season.
These sorts of offensive assaults like we've seen from the Ducks are tough on goaltenders because there is no calculated or structured attack. Instead, we're seeing odd-man rushes and extremely aggressive plays with the puck towards the net off these rushes coupled with a fairly frenetic attack off the forecheck. There isn't much of a cycle or a structure to the Ducks offense right now, and they're doing a great job of cashing in on the limited chances afforded them -- going against a goaltender who performs his best when receiving a steady diet of shots throughout a game.
All of this has seemingly unnerved Lehtonen, and it's something he needs to get over in a hurry. Dallas is doing an increasingly good job of limiting chances and shots but the Ducks have made a living this season on feasting on mistakes and that's exactly what is happening in this series. The biggest issue with Lehtonen is dropping into his stance and lowering his glove hand way too quickly and isn't showing the confidence he needs when facing a shooter one-on-one.
This is a problem that we've seen before when Lehtonen has been off of his game.
Lehtonen and Mike Valley need to address this issue but I also understand where this is coming from a bit -- so hopefully if I can understand it, the professionals can understand and fix that. This is also a task for the Stars defense as well, and it can't all be on Lehtonen, but if the Stars are going to have a chance at evening up this series or even winning a game a quick turnaround is drastically needed.
The NHL postseason is returning to Dallas for the first time in six years and it's amazing to think just how different this franchise is from 2008 until now. Trevor Daley remains the only player from that roster still on the team, and there's almost no one from management that remains -- perhaps Les Jackson is one of the few, along with some behind-the-scenes folks.
Management. Coaches. Players. Logos. Colors. Jerseys.
Think of this fanbase. Think of what we've seen at the AAC the past five years and how the Stars have gone through the hills and valleys of a franchise in a turbulent time. Remember the dwindling crowds and how quickly the Stars were essentially forgotten by the Dallas sports scene, and just how quickly a successful season and playoff berth can quickly change things.
There's going to be some talk about "bandwagon" fans and the such, and while it's certainly fair to rail against "Blackhawk fans" who haven't stepped foot in Chicago in 20 years I really don't think anyone should mind much as the rest of DFW climbs back aboard the Dallas Stars train.
Playoff hockey is unlike almost any other atmoshere in sports and the crowds at the AAC this season have proven that Stars fans can be incredibly loud and raucous when called upon. The game against the Blues, in which a postseason berth was clinched, was a perfect example of how this Stars team -- which feeds so directly off energy and speed -- can rally behind their crowd and vice-versa, and I expect nothing less for tonight's 8:30 start.
It's a shame, but after two games it's very clear that the shortcomings on this team have a lot to do with many of the veterans that were acquired to actually make a situation such as this one easier for the Stars. Instead, the up-tempo and aggressive approach that has worked so far for the Stars -- and one that is also employed by the Ducks -- has been too much for certain players to handle, and it's cost this team dearly.
Brad made a great point Friday night that this is essentially a Jim Nill problem, and that actually feels like a really good place for this team. The Stars are so obviously close to truly breaking out it's frustrating when they come up just short, but so much has already been addressed.
The Stars have a franchise center and an incredible young captain and a very promising core of young players. The team also has a truly competent and encouraging coaching staff for the first time in six years (coincidence? I think not) and that's going to go a long way towards making this rebuild continue to barrel along ahead of schedule.