Friends, it is my very sad duty to inform you that Kari Lehtonen has been dethroned.
The Nashville Predators seem to have the season that the Dallas Stars would love to have. Not only number one in the Central, Nashville have overtaken the Vegas Golden Knights in point total and are second in the league behind the Tampa Bay Lightning.
We all know how Dallas is doing, but for some perspective, they are top ten in the league right now in ninth place, just ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Yes they’re in a wild-card spot, but that’s because, unfortunately, they’re still in the Central Division - fiercely competitive group.
The Stars have taken their last three games to overtime for two losses and one win. The Predators are two-for-two in their last two overtime games, which are also their last two consecutive games, because hockey is sometimes weird like that. In three previous match-ups between these teams this season, the Predators have taken away five points, the Dallas Stars two.
The good news? The Dallas Stars were on the second night of a back-to-back, and we all know how much they love playing those. This is not sarcastic, they have a great record in these games. There are, of course, exceptions like tonight.
The goalie battle went strong through the first period. The board remained scoreless through the end of the first twenty minutes, and this with two man-advantages for the Stars and one for the Predators. Shots were even, though the quality shots favored the Predators.
Penalties continued into the second period, where the game began to go off the rails a bit. First, Tyler Seguin took a slashing penalty. Then Scott Hartnell took a hooking penalty. Greg Pateryn had a holding penalty on Colton Sissons. Ryan Hartman had a slashing penalty. Upon exiting the box, he bumped Jason Spezza in a way that Julius Honka didn’t appreciate, and Honka subsequently took a cross-checking penalty against Hartman. All within twenty minutes of play.
Honka didn't approve of Hartman's hit on Spezza, so he takes it into his own hands. Puts Dallas on the penaly kill, however. pic.twitter.com/9u2i3G27c0— Dylan Nadwodny (@dnadders) March 7, 2018
And, because it had already gotten pretty chippy, then this happened:
Antoine Roussel and Nick Bonino took matching roughing penalties out of this. However, despite three power plays for the Stars and four for the Predators, the score remained even at nil-nil through the second, though the Predators did pull ahead in the shot count.
Close to five minutes into the third, the Stars had control of the puck in their own zone. Seguin had the puck behind the net, and tried to pass it to Honka in the corner. Instead, it was picked off by Sissons, who connected with Austin Watson. Turning around, Watson found Ryan Hartman alone in front of the net. 1-0 Predators.
With a minute and a half left in the game, the Stars pulled Lehtonen, but still weren’t able to generate much with the extra attacker. John Klingberg tripped on a divot in the crease in front of the empty net and lost the puck. Bonino swooped in like a burnt-yellow avenging angel and scored the empty netter that someone, somewhere probably tried to blame on Lehtonen. With under a minute to go in the third, the score was 2-0 in favor of Nashville.
And that is where it ended, 2-0. This was Nashville’s ninth consecutive win, which set a franchise record for the team. All of the effort Lehtonen gave to what should have been a lights-out performance was wasted. The Stars got superhuman goaltending from their Finn on the second night of a back-to-back, but couldn’t get their offense together, which you can see in their shot placement below.
The Stars took a lot of long shots, didn’t follow up on their rebounds, and dumped the puck on their zone entries too often to truly generate anything offensive in any meaningful way. Something had to give, and as they didn’t improve their offense over the course of sixty minutes, they were already playing tired, it was their defense that gave in the end.
Still, they’ll hang on to their first wild-card spot for now, and have two days of rest before they face-off against the Anaheim Ducks in Dallas on Friday night.