Most people scratched their head when Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill spent over $10 million on goaltending this offseason. Luckily, the expensive tandem goaltending strategy appears to be working for the red-hot Dallas Stars so far this season.
Kari Lehtonen has started five games so far, with a 4-1-0 record and a .905 save percentage. It's not a world-beater save percentage, but you can't argue much with the winning record he's accrued. Antti Niemi has started eight games, with a 6-2-0 record and a .908 save percentage. Again, not elite numbers, but he's getting results.
Both goaltenders have gone on stretches of games where they start three or four games in a row. Once they put up a sub-par performance, the other guy can come in fresh and carry the team for his stint of games. It's one of the benefits of having two goaltenders that can carry the load as a starter.
While both Niemi and Lehtonen have to adjust to sharing crease time, fans have been pleasantly surprised with the success of the team on-ice.
In past seasons, a back-to-back was an automatic loss penciled into the schedule. A stretch of five games in eight nights would have fans pretty stoked if the team came out of it with five points total. Instead, the Stars collected eight of ten possible points in that situation this season (wins over Anaheim, Vancouver, San Jose, and Boston).
While the post-traumatic stress of watching backup goaltenders come into those types of game situations hasn't completely abated among the fan base, there's a little more hope that the wins and points will come regardless of who is in net.
The start to this season has been historic, with the team matching the best start in franchise history through the first 11 games, Jamie Benn tying the record for most points recorded by a Stars player to start a season, and Tyler Seguin tied with all-time Stars great Mike Modano for the most hat tricks in Dallas Stars history. John Klingberg, in his sophomore campaign, is currently tied for the league lead in scoring by a defenseman (which might be akin to seeing a unicorn in these parts ever since the departure of Sergei Zubov).
What has not been historic is the terrible goaltending marks observed last season and the points that slipped away. The goaltenders have both come up with the timely save needed to change the complexion of the game. The wins are coming, the goals are coming, and while the defensive side hasn't been all rainbows and gum drops, it's respectable.
Much of the prognostication we made about last season was that the Stars would have been a playoff team with just league average goaltending. So far, the Stars are getting that from the Niemi/Lehtonen tandem, and they sit atop the Western Conference today because of it.