The Stars finally got a three goal lead they could hold last night; good for them. Also, how much do you want to bet that after Jamie Benn scored that sixth goal, Kari Lehtonen was giving Benn a hard time for not passing it to him for the shot? Two-goal lead and everything, man. Come on.
The Minnesota Wild are having a disastrous season. While you might say that the Wild are making good strides as an organization, you might also say that they can ill-afford to throw away a season right after making it past the first round of the playoffs last year. This is the team that has Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, both 30 years old right now, signed until the middle of next decade. This is the team that has Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper signed for another year, with Devan Dubnyk currently the best option in goal and Josh Harding currently in existence, somewhere. This is a team with limited flexibility (although more than you might think) that can't wait for Suter and Parise to get much older before making their run. This is a team that has driven some of its biggest fans to write things like this:
Thomas Vanek has struggled to gain any meaningful momentum. Mikael Granlund has been a bust this season. The goaltending situation between Darcy Kuemper, Niklas Backstrom and a guy you may have forgotten existed in Josh Harding has been an utter disaster. For much of the season Charlie Coyle has been a disappointment. Even Nino Niederreiter has slowed as this team spirals down the toilet before our eyes. Aside from a couple notable bright spots in Zach Parise or Jason Zucker, most of this roster seems to have simply stopped caring for big stretches of play throughout the season. [Hockey Wilderness]
The Minnesota Wild are also right next to the Dallas Stars in the standings, I am sorry to inform you. And while Dallas is not leaning quite as heavily on a pair of 30-year-olds with massive contracts, they are leaning pretty heavily on one 30-year-old with a few years left on a large contract: Kari Lehtonen. And, just like Minnesota, the Stars are showing just how quickly a playoff team with promise can be undone by below-average goaltending for the majority of the season.
One of our worst writers penned this piece over the summer in which he mentioned that Lehtonen's legacy was going to be shaped primarily by what he did over these next two years. (That was with the assumption that either Jack Campbell or another goalie would be in position to at least provide some realistic depth by that point, which, well, we can still hope for.) We're a good chunk of the way through year one of two, and it hasn't been a good one, as you know. We don't have the magic NHL space-pucks yet, so analyzing exactly why Lehtonen has let in more grade A chances than last year is tough without breaking down every single goal (and there are a lot of them this year); the results thus far, though, tell us one obvious thing: the Stars can only go as far as their goaltending will take them.
Sean McIndoe has a very entertaining post about all the current goalie controversies going on around the league. His entry on Dallas is, well, unique:
Dallas Stars: Kari Lehtonen (then) vs. Kari Lehtonen (now)
In this corner: Kari Lehtonen, who is good.
And in this corner: Kari Lehtonen, who is not.
The battle so far: OK, clearly I’m cheating here, because there’s no goaltending controversy in Dallas in a classic sense. The Stars have played 47 games and Lehtonen has appeared in 40 of them, putting him among the league leaders. He’s clearly the guy in Dallas.
The question is, what happened to him? Lehtonen had been a consistently decent goalie for years, never quite a superstar but always a dependable starter. He has a career .914 save percentage, which is right around average for a full-time starter in the cap era, maybe a little better. But this year’s dipped down to .903, and no goalie in the league has given up more goals against.
So what’s the deal? Maybe he’s worn out — he led the league is games and minutes played last year. Maybe he’s old, having tipped past the wrong side of 30 in recent years.
Or maybe this is just one of those outlier seasons that comes along every now and then. Sometimes good goalies just have bad years. Jonathan Quick, who has similar career numbers to Lehtonen’s, put up a .902 a few years ago and then bounced back to his typical levels.
And the winner is: To be determined. It’s too late for the Stars now, but if Lehtonen can get back to his old standards, they could be back in the playoff hunt next year. [Grantland]
That is my hope, certainly. Quick had a fluke year, and Tuuka Rask certainly hasn't put up a season for the ages so far this year. Whatever factors have played into Lehtonen's thus-far insufficient numbers might well be gone by next year, whether they be injury-related, defense-driven or just the cumulative effect of Mike Valley's pouring Giant Camel Spiders into Lehtonen's pads before practice every day. I made that last one up, I hope. (And by the way, we'll actually have a look at a lot of these possible factors in greater depth in the near future, so stay tuned.)
So we know that the results haven't been there this year, but Kari's career average is, even with age-related decline, still the neighborhood where he ought to be for a little bit longer. And some of the saves we saw last night, even while allowing three goals, certainly seem to suggest that Kari Lehtonen is still Kari Lehtonen, and that he will, over the course of more games, continue to be himself: a good goalie. I would normally go to the old standby comment about how Lehtonen won't just turn into Ondrej Pavelec overnight, but that would actually have been helpful at times this year. In fact, Pavelec's competent goaltending itself (second to Hutchinson's though it is) may be evidence that this season is just completely bonkers and should be forgotten as soon as possible.*
*unless the Stars go like 25-5-4 the rest of the way, which is technically possible.
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Special teams and goaltending are important, I think. Recap. [Stars]
The Stars have the third-worst win % in the league when outshooting their opponents. That just screams out for shot quality analysis. [Dobber Hockey]
The AHL announced the consummation of their manifest destiny yesterday with the formation of a Pacific Division for affiliates of the Flames, Oilers, Ducks, Sharks and Kings. Five teams will move from the East Coast to California. Our friends at 100 Degree Hockey have the details about this pretty monumental move. [100 Degree Hockey]
The Jets lost to Philadelphia last night. If you're looking for signs of vulnerability, that's as clear as they come. I also approve of the headline on this recap at [Arctic Ice Hockey]
Adam Clendening and Gustav Forsling have been traded for each other. I will give you one DBD dollar if you knew which team they each play(ed) for. [NHL]
Henrik Lundqvist is grateful that the overhead cameras only have like a 15 FPS capability after a close call resulted in no goal being awarded. (WARNING: Pierre) [Pro Hockey Talk]
Adam Larsson is benefiting from increased "trust," which is basically the same as ice time. [Pro Hockey Talk]
Another interesting "Five Questions" piece from Justin Bourne. This time it's with current college student and former NHLer Mike Komisarek. [The Score]
The NHL will, as you've heard, be adding statistics like Corsi and PDO to its website as soon as February. Tracking technology is in the pipeline as well. With all of the innovation, here is why Corsi is not going away any time soon, much to the dismay of Ken Campbell. [Habs Eyes on the Prize]
Katie Baker waxes poetic about the final season of the Nassau Coliseum. [Grantland]
Great news, everyone! Actually, you will probably hate this news. The NHL is going to test advertisements on jerseys during the 2016 World Cup of Hockeytime Funtown. [TSN]
Dave Tippett will not be making a cameo appearance on the new Hockey Wives reality show his wife is in. Dave Tippett does not watch much television, it seems. [SportsNet]
Finally, long-distance goals were something of an epidemic last night with the empty net, but Jonathan Bernier probably wishes he hadn't been in net for this one: