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Has Dallas Been Leaning Too Hard on Goaltending?

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Don't let a slow glove hand lately erase his herculean effort throughout the year.
Don't let a slow glove hand lately erase his herculean effort throughout the year.

Losing five of six games. How many times do we have to type that and how many times do you have to read it? I'd apologize, but I'm blaming the schedule makers and the Stars themselves for engineering a three day break following such an abysmal stretch of hockey in an otherwise fun season.

Now we have to fill this space three or four times a day with posts meant to spark discussion and provide some manner of insight but we're at as much of a loss as the players and coaches themselves are as to the reasons things have taken this dastardly turn.

So why we ask why has this happened, and how does it get better?

And the more we ask and the further we delve the more the road leads down a dark place. A place I hate to go. A place the laziest of lazy hockey fans (and pundits on Canadian TV stations) go far too often when things take a turn for the worst: They immediately and totally blame the goaltending.

Is that fair? Is this Kari Lehtonen's fault? Is it Andrew Raycroft's fault? Of course not, but they have not been themselves recently. They'll tell you that.

Certainly they must shoulder some of the blame but the more I look at the way the Stars have gone about their business this season and how they built the division lead now being squandered the more I stop asking "Should I blame the goaltending for this slump?" and the more I start asking "Were the Stars leaning WAY too hard on goaltending already this season?" I go from blaming them to wondering if I've been taking them for granted.

Here's the most simplistic hockey analysis on the planet: If the Stars score first they'll probably win. (23-2-1 when scoring first this year.) That's a two step process for Dallas this year. First they usually need to survive some manner of horrific onslaught by the other team to start the game, then they earn one of those 23 goals.

Let's take a stroll down memory lane...

From Defending Big D recaps this season...

EDM, 1/11- In the first period the Oilers out chanced and out shot the Stars by a wide margin in each category, but it was Brenden Morrow that got the first goal of the game about fourteen minutes into the game.

Bad start, goaltending kept them in it, they won the game.

CHI, 1/5 - What the Stars do - and maybe as well if not better than any other team in the NHL I'd argue at this point - is play just well enough to always be in a game no matter what the situation is and in the end find ways to win

"Just well enough to always be in a game" ...thanks to the goaltending usually.

NSH, 12/28 - Apparently playing a full 60 minutes worth of hockey is overrated right?  Why play well for three full 20 minute periods of hockey, when playing barely well enough to keep yourselves in a game for the first 42 minutes and then really well for the last 18 minutes of the third period to take and hold on to a lead to win a game seems to work just as well and work repeatedly no less.

Another bad start. Another win. Andrew Raycroft completely stole this one.

DET, 12/19 - The Stars came out flat, as expected. Detroit outhustled them to every puck and Dallas' forwards were helplessly unable to slow the Wings' advance into the attacking zone. Detroit outshot the Stars 7-0 through the first ten minutes.

Over and over again.

CBJ, 12/18 - Considering Columbus got nine of the game's first 10 shots and seemed to be able to back the Stars defense off with minimal resistance, it appeared this was going to be one of those nights were the Stars just didn't have it.

But they did have it, eventually.

WAS, 12/2 - Then the Dallas Stars did what the Stars always seem to do when they are outplayed in the first period and that was come out with a much better effort in the second and third periods.

Hanging around and then getting their feet under them eventually.

After every one (I could go back further, but the point is well made) we said the same thing in the comments:

"They can't keep doing this."

For a time, however, it appeared as though they could, and so we decided that this was just how the Stars were going to win games and we shut up about it. The last two weeks have me re-thinking that particular concession in reasoning.

The preceding blurbs and a moments reflection makes one wonder if these problems they're having were there all season long, and now that the stellar goaltending component has been taken away they're [the problems] finally starting to bite them on their collective arse's, because of course, "They couldn't keep doing that."

These comparison's are not entirely apt, of course. The mistakes and failures of the last two weeks have been much greater than the hiccups along the way to all those wins and no goaltender on Earth could have survived such a storm. You could also argue that the counter punch that arrived in those other wins was likely not coming recently due to injuries and the struggling power play and whatnot.

Contrarian arguments might postulate that the game against the Capitals could have easily turned into a 6-2 blowout if not for the play of Andrew Raycroft. The win against the Kings recently could have easily been a lopsided Los Angeles victory if not for the heroics of Kari Lehtonen. Etc.

So was it all a mirage?

Probably not. You don't win 30 games before the All-Star break because you got lucky with your goaltending, but the next  month will tell us for sure. We knew they were leaning hard on their goaltending. All "good teams" do at some point. How hard is too hard? The media keeps touting their record in one goal games but it's really a reflection of just how important the goaltending has been.

With the Stars lining up with $11 million less payroll than the opposition more often that not lately, it's the most natural thing to fall back on, of course. That's why Joe Nieuwendyk acquired Lehtonen and Raycroft in the first place and they've performed admirably in a place where another could not in recent years.

Everyone slumps, however. Even your rock in net. Many fans are waiting for the goaltending to pick this thing back up and carry it through the injury trouble and tough schedule, but mayhap it's time for their mates to pick them up for once as they've seldom done this year.