Only four games into the 2013-2014 season, the Stars are 2-2 and are already facing adversity. Their play is bipolar at best and it is unclear which Dallas Stars team will show up on any given night. To add injury to insult, Kari Lehtonen was placed on injured reserve and will miss at least two more games against two currently undefeated teams (Colorado and San Jose).
In the preseason, I wrote a story covering four key areas the Stars need to improve on from last season in order to make the playoffs. One of them, to no one’s surprise, was backup goaltending:
To quote Stars commentator Daryl Reaugh, “Goalie Stats are like bikinis; they show a lot, but not everything.” You would think Kari Lehtonen was a great goaltender in 2013. And you would be right. But why then would the Stars rank 6th worst in the NHL in Goals Against per Game (2.94)?
Lehtonen’s stat for the same category; 2.66. However, the backups, Richard Bachman and Christopher Nilstorp, held a 3.25 and a 3.09 Goals Against per Game. Kari needs to be just as solid as he’s been in recent seasons, but when he gets a night off, or worse, if he gets injured, Dan Ellis needs to step it up just a little bit more than Backman and Nilstorp did.
Only four games played so far out of 82, and the situation has already presented itself. Can the Stars, specifically Dan Ellis, carry the load while Lehtonen is out?
Against Winnipeg, the Stars looked sharp. They moved the puck well, and most importantly, they were the team that set the pace of the game. The defensemen made the right passes, the forwards found some chemistry, and in three periods, the Stars found the back of the net four times. New Dallas Star Tyler Seguin was clicking on all cylinders and it was the Stars’ night to shine.
One night later, enter the Wild…
The Stars killed any momentum from their surgical-like victory over Winnipeg only 12 seconds into the game. Dillon was lackadaisical in his attempt to clear the puck out of the zone and coughed up an easy scoring opportunity that resulted in a 1-0 Minnesota lead with 19:48 showing on the clock in the first period. From that point on, the game belonged to Minnesota.
The optimist in me thinks it’s way too early for this speculation. The optimist thinks it’s the second night of a back-to-back on the road (and the Stars are notoriously bad in those games). No big deal. This new team is getting to know each other. They’ll rebound…right?
However, the pessimist thinks the difference in Friday night’s win and Saturday night’s loss is cause for concern. The pessimist looks at the goaltending situation and wonders if, like last year, the Stars can’t overcome a hopefully small injury to Kari Lehtonen.
The realist thinks the optimist is mostly right. It is way too early to really know. This is a team with plenty of new players and a new coaching staff. They will need time to gel. The realist also thinks that poor backup goaltending can really hurt the Stars despite other variables. A team can’t win the Stanley Cup or make the playoffs in October, but they sure can lose it.
If the Stars are headed in the right direction this season, they’ll have to play like the cohesive unit we all saw against the Jets. If the Stars want to start the season off right, they’ll need all their big players to make big plays. Most importantly, they’ll need solid goalie play from Dan Ellis. If the Stars can’t rely on Ellis in net while Lehtonen is out, the domino effect might be too much to handle.