The Dallas Stars' goalie-platoon system is, as it turns out, a little like evolution: It's an actual thing that actually works, even if you don't believe in it.
Mike Heika has heard the fans' lament over the role of goaltending in tough losses to "easy" teams, including the most recent in Columbus. And he's using his platform to tell us – ever so kindly – to snap out of it and look at the facts:
The Stars have the best record in the Western Conference right now. They are 27-8-3 with 57 points and are off to the best start in franchise history after 38 games. If you were honest in the summer, you were hoping for sixth or seventh place in the West. If you were honest in the summer, you were simply hoping for the playoffs.
The Stars are 19 points ahead of sixth place in the Central Division _ or the cutoff line for playoff elimination right now. They have a 99.9 percent chance of a post-season invite according to the people who track those things. This season has been a screaming success...in large part because two mediocre goalies are making each other better, even if it's just by a little bit.
Heika provides the details as to why he believes in the Wonder Finns, including these:
Niemi is better playing fewer minutes. So is Lehtonen. It's clear Lindy Ruff has leaned on Niemi harder in recent games. It's clear that if the playoffs started tomorrow, Niemi would be in net. But they don't start tomorrow, so the Stars have time to gather more information.
They have time to test Lehtonen, who had a 22-save shutout against the Blues in a revved up, playoff-style game Sunday. They have time to challenge him and work him and tear him down and rebuild him, if need be.
They have time to do exactly what they set out to do in the summer.
My guess is they are going to use that time.
Read the whole thing at Mike's blog. [SportsDayDFW]
The Big D won't be part of NYE at American Airlines Center tonight, so all the fireworks will take place indoors when the Stars meet the Nashville Predators. DBD will have all the gameday reading you can eat – here's an appetizer from Mark Stepneski. [Stars Inside Edge]
It was quiet – too quiet – in the MDK last night, but that's about to change for New Year's Eve. All seven Central teams will see action before the ball drops tonight; watch for these non-Dallas match-ups:
- Minnesota Wild at St. Louis Blues (7 p.m. Central time)
- Chicago Blackhawks at Colorado Avalanche (7 p.m. Central time)
- Winnipeg Jets at Arizona Coyotes (8 p.m. Central time)
Meanwhile, the Texas Stars have picked up the party mantle and will celebrate their first New Year's Eve bash in Cedar Park Center during and after tonight's game against the San Diego Gulls.
The Dallas Morning News assigned some New Year's resolutions to DFW-area sports superstars – and suggests that Jamie Benn and Jordie Benn should plan to "spend more time with family" on the ice, during a Stanley Cup run. [DMN]
Ed Sarno says the Stars' New Year's wish should be for the continued gift of good health: Of the squad's 108 Man-Games Lost this season, its top four forwards and top two defensemen account for exactly zero. [The Hockey Writers]
Someday we might get tired of reminiscing about Art Ross Night. For now, just relish its presence in yet another year-end list, this time Sports Illustrated's Top 15 NHL Moments of 2015. [SI]
Catch up on the World Junior Championships with Huw's DBD recap of yesterday's action. If you need a little extra perspective on the performance of Team Finland ultraprospect Jesse Puljujarvi, Corey Pronman has you covered.
Puljujarvi's 10 points is the 2nd best U18 performance by a Finn at the WJC, the best in 40 years, and tied for 12th all-time. Took 3 games.— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) December 30, 2015
Meanwhile, Team Canada dual citizen Jake Virtanen is enjoying a family reunion during his time in Helsinki.
And the original Finnish Flash, Teemu Selanne, donned the No. 8 one last time yesterday, as Finland's national team retired his jersey from international competition. [NHL]
Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux took year-in-review duties for The Players' Tribune's "What the (Blank)?" Learn more about his highlights (AC/DC), lowlights (injuries), and resolutions (less Kardashian, more grilled cheese). [The Players' Tribune]
At least Caps goalie Braden Holtby is still having a good year. Let NHL PR tell you how good.
When was the last time you thought about how awesome Jaromir Jagr is? Well, think it again, because he just picked up his second GWG of the season and has moved within eight goals of tying Brett Hull for third on the all-time scorers list.
The Boston Bruins have just lost another player before the 2016 Winter Classic. This time it's Brad Marchand, suspended for three games for a low-bridge hit on Ottawa Senators defender Mark Borowiecki – and, as Pierre LeBrun writes, once more in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. [ESPN]
Puck Daddy has posted its annual list of the year's greatest hockey achievements in Bizarro World, and former Toronto Maple Leafs CEO Richard Peddie earned a place of honor for a tired bit of Tyler Seguin bashing that backfired spectacularly. (Bonus track: "Way to go, Paul!")
New Puck Daddy: Puck Daddy’s 2015 Alternative Year in Hockey Awards https://t.co/4USNjKBsbr— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) December 30, 2015
What's the story behind the Florida Panthers' "Spacey in Space" T-shirt? Only Keyser Soze and Aleksander Barkov claim to know for sure, but if this delightfully strange player-of-the-game award is inspiring the Atlantic Division's new leaders, well, that's doubly amazing.
Finally: Chevrolet has learned about how the Stars pass the black cowboy hat to their men of the match. That little ceremony is the subject of the car manufacturer's latest #PowerofPlay video, starring Vernon Fiddler, Antoine Roussel, John Klingberg and many more.