Some things in life are certainties: death, taxes, Dallas Stars losing points on the second half of a back-to-back.
It's a situation that hasn't been kind to the Stars in recent years. Because they are heading into the second back-to-back set coming up this weekend, Erin and I found ourselves at opposing viewpoints on goaltender deployment.
Do you start Kari Lehtonen versus the Anaheim Ducks, when the Stars will surely want to exact some revenge on the team that eliminated them from the playoffs on their own ice in such gut-wrenching form? Or do you instead start him versus the Minnesota Wild, a team within your division where two points could be a four-point swing in standings where every point is huge in the Central division? Do you go super-crazy and go with your starter for both?
We thought we'd bring our discussion to you, our dear readers, and see what you think should happen with goaltender deployment this weekend.
[Taylor] So Erin, the backup goaltending we had hoped for isn't here yet. With the second back-to-back of the season this weekend, what would be your ideal deployment of Kari Lehtonen and Anders Lindback? Or, would you go really off the map and bring up Jussi Rynnas or Jack Campbell for one of those instead? Or is that just crazy talk this early in the season?
[Erin] I love off-the-board moves as much as the next person, but bringing up Rynnas or Campbell this soon is out there even for me.
Personally, I favor starting Lehtonen against Anaheim on Friday and letting Lindback take Saturday's game. It's still too early in the season to be putting out the same goalie for back-to-backs, and given the recent history with Anaheim and relative difficulty of both opponents, I'd like to see Lehtonen sooner rather than later. The Ducks boast a very scary offensive lineup and the potential to play that run-and-gun style that seems to drag the Stars forwards into a game of "anything you can do, I can do better" that often ends in shaky coverage.
But there's definitely a case to be made for the reverse. Do you feel like Lehtonen should face the divisional opponent instead?
[Taylor] I agree with you that Anaheim's offense is scary. I expect that to be another one of those games where whomever scores last wins the game and it'll be like 8-7 or something stupid. But as crazy as it might be, I think I would lean towards putting Lindback in net for that one.
Now everyone's going to be in up arms at that, so hear me out. The Stars don't play as well on the second half of a back-to-back. It's been a problem for years, and their track record in those situations is abysmal really. So the chances of pulling out points in those games is already stacked against whomever is in net. I think that Lehtonen gives you the better chance to pull points from a divisional opponent, which is a four point swing in the standings for a team I'm sure the Stars will be competing with in the Central.
But I guess the real question for me is, will they get any points out of this weekend set? The goaltending and team defense has been shaky at best. Do you think there is a chance Lindy Ruff plays Lehtonen in both games, depending of course on how he plays in the first one, knowing the Stars have a three game homestand right after this?
[Erin] This team has shown a knack for giving up points it has played well enough to earn, but they've also shown a knack for getting points in general even when circumstances (such as questionable goalie interference calls) go against them. Because of that, I'm hopeful they'll keep on track and get at least two from a very tough little set.
But given the defensive issues this team has had, and that is something that you can blame equally on the skaters and the goalie, there may be an outside shot that Ruff plays Lehtonen in both games. The Stars have two days off after the set before a home game against Los Angeles, and Sunday is likely to be the CBA-mandated off-day. The team is obviously more confident and comfortable in front of Lehtonen, and if they were really desperate for points it would be a definite option.
Still, I don't think we're at that point yet. After all, Friday's game is only game No. 10. Yes, points lost at this point of the season sting just the same, but you're also still looking at real long-term pictures. It is an interesting question though - given the less-than-stellar quality of the two games started by Lindback, do you think the Stars are at a point where they're seriously considering moves like playing Lehtonen in both ends of a back to back?
[Taylor] I never expected Lindy Ruff to put Jason Spezza as Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn's center, so I'm not sure what he's thinking.
But seriously, I think it could give the team a great boost of confidence to finally get on a roll. Yes, they're collecting points (7 out of 9 games they've garnered points this season, that's nothing to sneeze at) but they haven't gotten on a consistent winning streak yet. Looking at the next five games you've got the Ducks, Wild, Kings, Predators and then Sharks. Without a win in this weekend's set, there's a good chance you end up in the wrong kind of streak - the losing kind. It's a rough stretch of the schedule, and if you've got two days to rest Lehtonen after the weekend, and he comes out really strong on Friday, then I could see him starting both games.
Do I think they're at the point where they need to do it? No. But it might not be a bad idea in order to ensure you don't end up on a losing skid. I think the real question for success might not be just on the goaltenders and their deployment. With two days of coaching time between games, what matchups do you expect to see in the Anaheim game? Do you see the coaching staff changing any of the lines up to better shutdown Anaheim's offense?
[Erin] The lines really depend on health, I think. If Nichushkin is healthy, and signs are it could be a possibility, then we'll see some moving around obviously. But I'm not as annoyed with the super trio/power trio/three amigos/whatever as some are. After all, scoring depth is nice for when someone goes cold.
But this offense is far from cold right now. The team isn't being hurt that one line is being shut down. When that happens, that is the time for shuffling. But if things are rolling on offense, and at least improving from a backchecking view, I'm happy to let them be.
The backup goaltending, however, I can guarantee I'll have less patience with.
You tell us: how would you utilize the goaltenders this weekend?