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A Few Bright Spots Shining Through the Dim Start

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The kickoff to the 2016-17 Dallas Stars’ campaign certainly hasn’t looked as good as we had hoped. There are, however, reasons to still be excited.

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Dallas Stars Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

We are now about a week and a half into this Dallas Stars’ season and it has been, well, it’s been something.

Opening night kicked things off strong with Niemi playing fantastic and the goals coming from the unexpected depth players. The Stars were off and running, or so we thought.

A couple of nights later, Dallas was handed their annual “what on earth did we just watch?” loss in Denver but it was okay because that always happens and it’s not a big deal.

And then it’s time for an early-season trip to Nashville, the home of the 2016 offseason champion Predators. An excellent opportunity to gauge where the Stars are at and where they are heading. Kari Lehtonen gets his first start and allows just one goal to the Preds and the Stars win 2-1. Here we go.

A three-game stay at home begins with a 4-3 overtime loss to Los Angeles. Lehtonen was elbowed in the head right before the game-winning goal went in but it counted so the Stars took their point and moved on. What better team to take out their frustrations on than a bad Columbus team playing their second end of a back-to-back?

Gut punch. The Stars lose 3-0 and never seemed to mount much of an attack in the Blue Jacket end of the ice. Lindy Ruff called the Stars “as flat as flat could be” which hurts but does not hurt nearly as much as John Tortorella saying “I thought we were in total control” does.

So all told, it’s been a weird start. It certainly hasn’t been a disaster, as the 2-2-1 is about as average as it gets. The concern here is that Dallas really hasn’t strung together many consecutive solid periods of play. There have been, however, a few bright spots that can give fans a reason to be optimistic about the rest of this season.

Kari Lehtonen

Lehtonen has appeared in four total games so far this season and has been quite good to kick things off. He was brilliant against Nashville, solid against Los Angeles in a game where he was being peppered, and then he was hung out to dry against Columbus while still posting a strong effort. The fact that it has been five games and the Stars can’t hang a loss on one of the goalies yet is somewhat encouraging.

It is still incredibly early, but Lehtonen has been one of the best goalies in the Western Conference during 5v5 play so far. For goalies who have played at least 60 5v5 minutes on the season, Lehtonen ranks ninth in raw save-percentage and third in the West behind just Corey Crawford and the surprising Peter Budaj.

Lehtonen also sits at 11th in GSAA. Goals Saved Above Average, or GSAA, is found on corsica.hockey and refers to the amount of goals a goaltender gives up versus the amount they are “expected” to give up based on shot quality. To give some context, Lehtonen was the eight worst goaltender in 5v5 GSAA last season. If you combine 2014-15 with 2015-16, only two goalies are below Lehtonen in 5v5 GSAA. He’s had a rough couple of seasons but has certainly started strong this year.

Stephen Johns

Injuries forced Johns onto the roster last season much earlier than we expected but that was clearly an important call up. He’s been a fixture in the lineup ever since and has arguably been the Stars best defenseman in this young season.

Although he’s a bigger guy and clearly likes playing physical, he hasn’t allowed himself to be out-of-position often to try and lay a crushing hit. He has formed solid and steady duo with Johnny Oduya and the two of them have locked down the defensive side of the ice for the most part through five games.

He’s certain to go through some growing pains playing in his first full NHL season but so far, there’s a lot to like from Stephen Johns.

That Line Again...

Ales Hemsky played in his first game Saturday night, received his yearly 20 minutes with Benn and Seguin and then was promptly shifted down to reunite the trio that took the AAC by storm last spring.

Antoine Roussel and Radek Faksa have been pushing opponents once again this season and Hemsky has re-joined the fun. In their first game back together they were the only three forwards on the Stars to post a positive shot attempt differential against Columbus.

Overall on the season, Roussel is pacing all Stars’ forwards with a Corsi-For-% of 55.28 while playing 5v5 hockey, followed closely by Adam Cracknell, Ales Hemsky and Radek Faksa.

It’s an odd line but it just seems to work. While all three of them have vastly different play styles, the one thing they all have in common is that they can skate. Hemsky tends to be more methodical but has wheels when he chooses to use them. Faksa is sneaky fast, especially for a guy his size. And then you have Roussel who skates with reckless abandon. They’re an incredible line to watch play and one has to think that their success should keep them together for a bit.

While it hasn’t been the start that many fans had envisioned, it hasn’t been nearly as bad as it could have been. Dallas’ best players haven’t quite made their presence felt yet but you have to think it is coming soon enough. Expect some bumps along the road this season, it should still be a fun ride.