The Dallas Stars currently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference, four points behind the Vancouver Canucks for the last wild card spot.
To say their game against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night is huge is a major understatement.
In January, the Stars went 6-5-2, and there were definitely a few games the Stars could have/should have won. Now is the time for them to start winning all the games they "should" win.
The player the Stars need to bounce back the most in February is goaltender Kari Lehtonen. Bar none. Of course, not every goal allowed is his fault, but the Stars cannot have him perform like he did in January and expect to gain ground in the playoff race.
Regarding Lehtonen's performance, this article will focus primarily on save percentage. It will also examine how the rest of the team has performed to put Lehtonen's performance in a greater context.
Overall, Lehtonen's save percentage for the 2014-2015 season is .905, nine points lower than his career average of .914. This season, let's just say Lehtonen was "off" in January.
|Month (Games Played)||Shots Faced||Saves||Save Percentage||Goals Against Average|
That's a 20-point drop in save percentage from December to January. That's...awful. Compared to November, Lehtonen faced 3.3 less shots per game and still posted worse numbers.
Despite Lehtonen having a bad month, Dallas still won six games. That being said, the Stars cannot expect to win consistently if they have to deal with sub-.900 goaltending on a nightly basis.
If there's ever a situation the Stars really need Lehtonen to be better at, it's 5-on-5 play.
|Month||5v5 Save Percentage|
Lehtonen's average 5-on-5 save percentage so far this season is .917, down from .928 the previous season. Considering the majority any game is played in this scenario, you'd like to see this number a bit higher. For a point of reference, Carey Price's 5-on-5 save percentage this season is .943.
I would be remiss to exclude the fact that Anders Lindback has a 5-on-5 save percentage of .882 in nine games played this season, so that complicates things quite a bit for Dallas to say the least.
Now, how are the Stars doing in terms of driving possession? Pretty well.
|Month||Score-Adjusted Even Strength Fenwick Percentage (NHL Rank)|
|October||50.7% (13th Overall)|
|November||49.6% (19th Overall)|
|December||53.7% (7th Overall)|
|January||52.1% (11th Overall)|
The Stars are clearly spending more time in the offensive zone than vice versa, with the lone exception being that really frustrating November. Their total Even Strength SA Fenwick is 51.5%, which puts them at 15th overall. The Winnipeg Jets currently sit at 10th overall in this category with an Even Strength SA Fenwick of 52.5%.
They have also cut down the shots Kari faces from 31.6 shots allowed per game in the first two months to 29.6. While that only amounts to a 6.4% decrease, it's trending in the right direction.
All of this highlights the importance of Kari Lehtonen needing to rebound from his less-than-stellar January. Should he improve his play and the rest of the team continues to control the puck in the opponent's zone more than the other way around, they should start to win more of those games they "should win."
There are six Central Division games coming up in February, and also three back-to-back sets. It's time to put up or shut up.