Is Kari Lehtonen pulling himself out of his own head and playing like he usually does finally, or is it a product of the team defense in front of him?
It's just two games, so it's hard to say yet which one it is (if either), but these last two games have been more like the performances the Dallas Stars are used to.
Though he followed a similar formula to his last win, allowing a goal on the first shot within the first minutes of the game, Lehtonen settled after that and came up with some big stops on prime chances. It's not what happened in so many games earlier this season; he'd allow one and then seemingly become leaky and allow multiple goals after the initial one.
Instead, tonight he stoned Alex Semin on several breakaways and stopped a few 2-on-1 attempts. They were big saves at big moments in the game.
Nice to see you, Kari Lehtonen.
He had great help in front of him, though. Lindy Ruff paired the rookie defensmen with a veteran, and played all of the rookies on their strong sides. That formula seemed to work quite well, as the blueline contributed two of the Stars' first three goals in the game.
But I think the real catalyst for the offense was the spunky line centered by Shawn Horcoff with rookies Brett Ritchie and Curtis McKenzie on his wings. That trio drove some major offensive zone time, tying the game and then setting up the go-ahead goal by pinning the Carolina Hurricanes in their own zone for about two minutes of play it seemed.
Alex Goligoski took advantage of the weary Hurricanes players by wandering into the slot unchallenged and banging one home. That set of players would create the fourth goal in the third period in much the same way with Goligoski's shot tipped home by Cody Eakin after a shift by that spunky Horcoff-Ritchie-McKenzie line.
Dallas did a good job of limiting shots on goal for 55 minutes of the game, but when they did allow something to squeak past them, they allowed some pretty prime chances.
They would figure out a way to make it interesting, like they always do, with about five minutes left in the game. Dallas had kept Carolina hemmed in their own zone so much that the Hurricanes didn't even have a shot on goal in the last period until about 13 minutes in.
In the span of less than a minute, the Canes had cut the lead to one.
The Stars showed some resiliency and managed to withstand their blunders to win in regulation. Patrick Eaves had one heck of an empty net goal when he scored from Lehtonen's crease.
A few other thoughts....
*A set of guys deserve some recognition for their play tonight even though they didn't get rewarded for it with goals. Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Ales Hemsky had fantastic games. Their play on the puck, the tenacity to win the battles, and the little things they did to help push play forward is easy to overlook without the production behind it. But that kind of play is what wins games. It's nice to see the depth scoring kick in when the top guys are held off the score sheet.
*That Horcoff-McKenzie-Ritchie line has some chemistry. Could they see increased ice time if this continues?
*Ryan Garbutt was scratched tonight. Cody Eakin returned to the lineup, and continues his hot point streak.
*Dallas is now 4-1 in their last five games and will come away with a winning record on this road trip regardless of what happens in tomorrow night's game against the Washington Capitals.