The Dallas Stars came into the season with a plan in place: continue the high-flying and exciting hockey that was so awesome to watch last season, with a team built around offensive aggression and speed and scoring and wow and pizzaz and oohs and ahs. The additions of Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky were part of that plan, with the Stars hoping that almost the exact same defense as last season could continue to keep up.
Except a funny thing happened on the way to the rink...in all of that focus on speed and offense, the defense regressed and now features three very inexperienced players in regular roles and while the Stars were certainly scoring a lot of goals -- they were also giving up a ton as well. And that was not a good thing.
The team defense as a whole was problematic, not helped at all by shoddy transition play by the defensemen and most certainly not helped by the fact that Kari Lehtonen suddenly found himself in the worst statistical season of his career. With some extended practice time and some breaks between games, however, Lehtonen has found his game once more and has allowed the team in front of him to have a bit of a different approach.
The Stars are now on a three-game winning streak, all three against "struggling" teams for sure, but also three games in which the Stars suddenly showed strong team defense, excellent goaltending and a revamped offensive philosophy that may have cut down on the scoring chances created but also reduced the number of game-changing mistakes being made.
Lehtonen allowed the Stars to play a calm - even boring - game throughout the first period. But a boring game also meant that the first team that broke through had a significant advantage, and Dallas was able to do that four minutes into the second period. Jamie Benn took a rebound and patiently slipped it past Jonas Hiller for a 1-0 lead, and the panic level in the Flames started to rise.
Then, Benn found Trevor Daley in transition, and Daley made it 2-0 with his seventh goal of the season. The Stars finally had a base where they could focus on defense.
The Stars did just that, cutting off passing lanes and sitting in the neutral zone. Lehtonen even contributed, helping defuse scoring chances with puck-handling and goalie clears.
"He's just been in a groove, and we feed off of that," defenseman Alex Goligoski said. "I think we've been working on a lot of stuff as a team, and we all feed off of each other. But, he's a really big part of everything."
Boring? Perhaps. But effective. Most importantly, it's allowed the Stars to now find a new base around which to build their team game moving forward. Get the team defense working as it should, and now start to build on that moving forward -- the offense will hopefully soon follow, with the defensive game shored up behind it.
Most importantly, Kari Lehtonen seems to be back to his old self again. The question now is whether Lindy Ruff will stick with the plan of playing Anders Lindback on this road trip, or once again riding the hot hand in net.
Finally, Curtis McKenzie has been assigned to the Texas Stars ahead of Ryan Garbutt's return from suspension.
The Dallas Stars have assigned LW Curtis McKenzie to the Texas Stars (AHL).— Mark Stepneski (@StarsInsideEdge) December 20, 2014
A tough choice for Stars management on this one, but ultimately it makes a bit of sense. The holiday roster freeze is about to take place, and veteran AHLer Travis Morin has been rather impressive in his short stint in the NHL so far, and is a bit more versatile as a forward than the feisty left-winger.
McKenzie will be a full time NHL player soon enough.
Now, onto the links!
While the Stars have started to move up the standings a bit, it's far from the time to begin talking about the playoffs. At least for for now. [Dallas Morning News]
Jason Dickinson was one of the final cuts from Team Canada for the WJC roster. Bummer. [NHL.com]
Meanwhile, Team USA trimmed it's roster down. [NHL.com]
Check out this goal by Patrick Elias last night:
Robert probably already had this in links, but the Stars were ranked No. 22 in SB Nation's power rankings. [SB Nation]
The best hit of the night belonged to an NHL linesman. This is comedy gold. [SB Nation]
Finally, this SB Nation video does a great breakdown explaining the mumps and why it's affecting, and infecting, the NHL: