Let's take a somber pill before we get going this morning, mmk? Okay, that's better.
Since Patrik Nemeth returned on March 3rd, the Stars have gone 7-2 against NHL-caliber teams. In that time, Kari Lehtonen is 7-1 with a .912 SV% against the same. In case you hadn't noticed, Buffalo is being omitted from these numbers, which is fine for our current purposes. Buffalo is doing their best to omit themselves from all lists of competitive teams, so it's really not our fault.
Anyway, the point. Nemeth and Kari seem to have continuously done something good since their return. The question you really have to ask, though, is whether that is a coincidence or not. Well, you don't have to ask it, but:
Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen is in the midst of a solid run. After an impressive 33-save shutout of the Blackhawks on Saturday night, he is 5-1-0 in his last six appearances, with a 1.67 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage. The veteran is also keeping things interesting for a team that, mathematically at least, still has a shot at a playoff spot in the West. But this taste of success has to be maddening for Dallas, an organization has gotten used to seeing Lehtonen turn up his game when the pressure is off and crumble when there’s something on the line. Remember when the Stars still had life in mid-February and Lehtonen responded by allowing 14 goals in a three-game span, including a converted touchdown to the Red Wings when his teammates had given him six goals to work with? That’s the game that ripped their hearts out. When this season wraps up, Lehtonen’s instability will be viewed as the No. 1 reason why a team with the league’s second-ranked offense was a playoff DNQ. And figuring out how to proceed will pose the biggest challenge of Jim Nill’s tenure as Dallas’s general manager.
At least Nill can move forward knowing that his young defense is on the verge of proving itself to be every bit as good as hoped. The early return of 23-year-old Patrik Nemeth from what was thought to be a season-ending wrist injury has added some much-needed physicality and positional awareness to a group that was already getting excellent puck movement from 22-year-old John Klingberg and solid two-way play from 23-year-old Jyrki Jokipakka. Whoever mans the pipes for this team moving forward will benefit from some excellent support.
Is Nemeth some kind of secret talisman for the Stars' veteran goalie? No, of course not. Don't be ridiculous!
More likely a cause for the correlation between Lehtonen's upswing and Nemeth's reintroduction to the lineup is the inherently symbiotic relationship between defense and goaltending. When one is great, the other tends to flourish as well. The 2011 Bruins, for instance, were only an above-average team in many ways, but Tim Thomas was incredible, and the Chara-led defense was as stifling as they had to be, though not superb. The Kings are probably the converse of that in their last two cups, as I find it rather unlikely that Jonathan Quick found the magic goalie elixir that teaches you to be insanely good only in the playoffs while putting up fairly humdrum numbers throughout the rest of your career.
Patrik Nemeth is a good player to have on your team, and he has undoubtedly contributed to the Stars' sterling March record; and hey, don't forget that Tyler Seguin also returned earlier this month as well. Heck, if you're Kari Lehtonen (you are probably not), and you're looking to give credit to someone for the team's recent success, you're probably the first one to say that it's been wonderful to have your best forward and your biggest Swedish defenseman back.
Yes, it has been--as it always is--a team effort, but goalies are always going to be the most important part of any team. So if Nemeth can make Kari feel just a tiny bit more comfortable, then please, Patrik: never leave us again.
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Here is a narrative for you: that third goal on the Stars would have been the stake through the heart earlier this year. What changed? Aside from playing Buffalo, I mean.
Jamie Benn scored twice, and John Klingberg made a decadent pass to Eakin (after some slick work by Hemsky). Doesn't that sound like a fun story? Well, hey, it actually happened. [Stars]
Josh Cooper also looked at the Stars' chances of postseason hockey. Guess what he found? They mathematically have a very small chance. [Puck Daddy]
Josh Bogorad laments the reality of the NHL standings in his usually stellar On the Radar piece this week. [Stars]
Did Devan Dubnyk win last night? Let me check my handy dandy oxygen meter, and, yes, it turns out that human life is still possible, so I am going with, "yes, Dubnyk won." [Hockey Wilderness]
The Jets have won five straight, in case you thought the Stars were the only hot team around these parts. [NHL]
Hawks devotees are saying the Stars went "supernova" Saturday night. Also, there is a pretty nice screen shot. [Second City Hockey]
Would you like an inflammatory article about unworthy Hall of Famers? How about one that essentially says, "Joe Nieuwendyk was a 'compiler' who was never an elite player." [Hockey Writers]
Arizona's goaltending coach Sean Burke has been given approval to look for jobs elsewhere, but don't get too excited: he's looking for a management role. [Fox Sports Arizona]
Reilly Smith was benched, and Claude Julien isn't really giving any details. This is not exactly the best part of the Bruins' season, I think. Oh, speaking oh which... [Boston Herald]
...the Bruins are officially out of a playoff spot now, as the Senators rebounded from two Sharks goals in 30 seconds to roar back with four unanswered goals in the third period. Andrew Hammond. [NHL]
Ilya Kovalchuk is supposedly targeting next summer for a return to the NHL. It would be complicated. [Puck Daddy]
James Mirtle's thoughts on the Senators and the rest of the league are worth your time. [Globe and Mail]
Finally, here is the universe doing everything it can to stop Alex Chiasson from scoring. (It's okay, though; he would later deflect in the game-winner):