Here's a novel concept.
Dallas Stars backup goaltender Anders Lindback can both have had a bad performance last and also not be the sole reason for last night's frustrating loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
There's no doubting that the Stars backup once again had a bit of a rough outing, his first playing time since coming in as relief against the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 21, and his first NHL start since Nov. 29. Lindback played well both in his time in the AHL and in his relief appearance, and was noticeably shaky once more early in this game.
The problem here is that while you could say that Lindback certainly could be faulted for both the Ryan Johansen goal as well as the Kevin Connauton uncontested slapper from the point, this is far from a game where the fault in the loss lies solely on the shoulders of a goaltender. The Stars were sloppy and sluggish through the first 25 minutes of the game, gave the Blue Jackets three full power plays in the first 12 minutes of the game and two early goals sucked all of the life out of the American Airlines Center.
Here's the thing though -- while Lindback wasn't the full reason for the loss, he could have been the reason for a stolen win. The saying "they just needed that one save and it would have been a different game" could be relevant here, as well; while it's tough to fault goalies on several 2-on-1 goals in a game, NHL goaltenders are also expected to be able to stop at least some of those -- steal a save for your defense.
"It's tough. [LIndback's] had a long spell," said Stars coach Lindy Ruff after the game. "We probably needed another save out of him. I thought he committed a little too early on a couple of them but it's not easy. He hasn't started in a long stretch but we needed him to be a little bit better if we were going to win the game."
Lindback has yet to have the sort of performance a team will need from time to time, when a backup goaltender comes in and can go toe-to-toe with the starter on the other side. Sure, it's impossible to expect starter-level play from a backup on every opportunity, but the truth is the Stars backups (Jussi Rynnas included) have performed the worst of any backs up in the NHL this season -- but still have only played in nine games so far.
"I don't know, I think I played pretty well," said Lindback. "I didn't think there were any bad goals, but obviously when you let in four goals you can't be too happy about it when you lose the game. Obviously I'm disappointed but it is what it is."
This game was ultimately lost because of a slow and frustrating first period, and the Stars power play failure to cash in on five opportunities. In a game like this, however, you'd hope your backup could at least find a way to get over and square up and just make a key save on the power play to bail out his team.
"I thought we got off to a real poor start," said Ruff. "We weren't ready to play taking three penalties in the first. That hurt us. After that we were the team that dominated possession. Our power play had spurts but not good enough. It could have been a difference maker. We just couldn't get it going. Too many turnovers, too many giveaways. We made a mistake on an entry but other than that I thought our penalty killing was really strong. We had maybe three opportunities to score on our power play and with the number of power plays we had, that's not enough."
The Stars came out in the second period pushing back hard against the Blue Jackets and ultimately cut the lead down to 3-2 thanks to some gritty goals by Ales Hemsky and Antoine Roussel. The problem is the Stars had four straight power plays in this game between the first and second periods after the score had gone to 2-0, and failed to cash in on any.
The Stars carried possession throughout the rest of the game, but never could solve Sergei Bobrovsky -- who was the difference in the third period.
"I think we were on it the last 35 minutes but that's not good enough," said Antoine Roussel. "We have to be on it the whole 60 minutes to make it count. We can't start two goals down and try to battle from there. If we start every game like we finished tonight we are going to be right there like we have been the last 10 games."
Perhaps it was 'just one of those nights' where the team is just not in sync -- it happens, even to the top teams in the NHL. It took some time for the Stars to get their groove; the passing was poor for most of the game until the third period, and the Stars top line was invisible until the big push in the final 20 minutes.
It's a tough loss, but if the Stars are going to have a sloppy performance in front of the backup goaltender, best to have an off night against an Eastern Division team. After all, the Stars can't win every game and there is going to be a bad night, save those for non-divisional teams. The worry, of course, is that two losses in a row leads back to bad habits and lowered confidence.
The good news is that Brett Ritchie was once again a force on the ice on the right wing and was one of the only noticeable players for Dallas in the first period. He was rewarded with being put on the top line with Seguin and Benn and looked to be a great fit with some determined and skilled players. He was physical and made smart decisions with the puck and showed he can certainly skate with this top line; afterwards, Ruff praised the rookie winger.
"I thought Ritchie played real well," said Ruff. "He may have been our best player tonight. He drew three or four penalties, physically dominated, I thought he had a lot good going for him."