Stars vs. Islanders Recap & Observations: Dallas, We Have a Backup Goaltending Issue. Again
The Stars lost on Saturday night in a game they needed the goaltending to be much better than it was, continuing a trend that doesn't seem ready to stop just yet.
The Dallas Stars have two regulation losses this season.
Both have come with Anders Lindback in net, and both have included some rather dubious goals allowed in the third period -- and suddenly the conversation about the Stars backup goaltending situation is right back where it's been ever since Mike Smith left town.
"I have to be better than that; that's about it," Lindback said Saturday night after allowing six goals on 28 shots. "Those two under the arm are goals I need to have. You can break it down, but in the end I need to make those stops that keep us in the game."
Perhaps it was a test of sorts when the Stars decided to start the backup on the second night of a back-to-back against an obviously high-powered offensive team. Could the Stars finally start relying on the backup goaltender in these situations, or would they quickly go right back to overplaying Kari Lehtonen, who had the most minutes on ice of any player in the NHL last season?
The Stars scored three unanswered goals in the second period, blasting back from a two-goal deficit and wresting control of the game back from the Islanders and taking a 4-3 lead late in the frame. It was a great comeback from the Stars, who had had some unfortunate turnovers and bounces but had finally started to find their game after a good night in New Jersey.
Unfortunately, as has happened too often in the recent past, that go-ahead goal was quickly erased by a suspect goal against soon thereafter. Just 30 seconds after being given the lead, Lindback allowed a Lubomir Visnovsky slap shot to find its way under his arm and suddenly all of that good will was gone.
"I thought he had a tough night," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "We gave some pretty good opportunities, but at the same time you have to get some saves. It's part of his role, and it's not easy, but we needed a few tonight."
What's ultimately frustrating is the Stars set out to specifically address this issue over the summer, signing both Lindback and Jussi Rynnas to compete for the backup position along with possibly Jack Campbell. The idea was that instead of signing another career backup the Stars would bring in relatively young goalies who wanted to fight and prove themselves worthy of possibly becoming the go-to goalie once more.
It hasn't worked out that way, and after just two games Lindback has a 0-2-0 record along with a 4.58 GAA and .850 save percentage. By contrast, Kari Lehtonen has "struggled" this season with a 4-0-2 record with a 2.73 GAA and a .915 save percentage.
Could this signal a quick change at backup?
"It's something we're putting a hard look into," said Ruff. "We liked him through camp, and he's had a little bit of a struggle."
Unfortunately, Lindback is going to likely pay for the sins of past by Stars backups. This has been an issue for six seasons now for Dallas, and there isn't going to be a lot of patience to allow Lindback to "find his way" as it were.
It's a very difficult task for a backup, to not play but once a week or so and then be asked to hold down a lead against once of the highest-scoring teams in the NHL. But that's the job of a backup and that backup won't play more if they don't perform when given the chance and right now, Lindback hasn't provided much confidence he can be relied upon and that's a very dangerous situation for the Stars to be in.
The defense might not have been it's absolute best last night but that's the sort of game to be expected against the Islanders. Both teams play similar styles and odd-man-rushes in both directions were expected and that's exactly what happened. The Stars had their chances in the third period, just like against the Lightning -- in fact, Dallas outshot Tampa Bay 12-8 in the final period.
The difference was Chad Johnson (the backup in New York who has earned more playing time) made the saves when it was needed most, and Anders Lindback did not.
** Last night's game was a wide-open affair and while there were certainly some defensive issues and turnovers, it wasn't the train wreck it might have been portrayed by some others. At least not in my estimation. The combination of Jokipakka and Oleksiak had some issues to start with but overall played strong and made several good plays defensively against a very speedy and aggressive team. There are going to be some hiccups along the way and expecting the blueline to be absolutely perfect every night is just setting expectations absurdly too high.
** Continuing that thought -- What made the Stars play so well as a team last season down the stretch was the defense feeling it was safe to activate and take chances. The Stars operate best when rolling as a five-man pressure unit that can quickly move the puck back up the ice. That transition game has struggled at times and the Stars have gotten hemmed in their own zone, but especially for the young players it's important for them to learn when in this system it's safe to be aggressive and when not to be. Oleksiak made a quick decision to pinch and it bit the Stars going the other way, but the goaltender is needed in that situation to not allow just a shot from distance to beat them.
** The fact that the Islanders kept taking those long shots rather than dipsy-doodle passing tells me Lindback was giving them the confidence to take the shot, and the goals proved why. For such a large goaltender, he does a magnificent job of making himself look small in net.
** Don't expect the Stars to break up the structure of the line combinations just yet. Ruff is pleased with how he feels he finally has four lines rolling throughout the game, and he's likely going to stick with that for now.
** Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn getting mad at Jordie Benn for his decision to shoot the puck right into Johnson's chest protector was interesting. At first I was concerned about the body language; the Stars were down 3-1 and were obviously frustrated. The Stars then scored three straight goals, starting with Tyler Seguin, and the offense suddenly awoke.
** Jokipakka has played two games now, and had good and bad moments. Time for him to take a step back, watch from on high and take some notes, and then adjust.