Dallas Stars: Goaltending Duo Reaching Peak Performance

DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 05: Dallas Stars goaltender Ben Bishop (30) makes the save against during the game between the Dallas Stars and the New York Rangers on February 5, 2018 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. Dallas defeats New York 2-1. (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 05: Dallas Stars goaltender Ben Bishop (30) makes the save against during the game between the Dallas Stars and the New York Rangers on February 5, 2018 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. Dallas defeats New York 2-1. (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The Dallas Stars have two quality goaltenders who are giving them a chance to win games when it matters most. Yes, you read that sentence right.

It’s not often that we can say this, so we’re going to take this opportunity and run with it: the Dallas Stars have one of the best goaltending duos in the NHL right now.

Yes, you read that sentence right and no, I have not fallen off of my rocker.

When is the last time you can think of the Stars having two high-caliber goaltenders on their roster? Maybe Marty Turco and Kari Lehtonen back in the early 2010’s? Or perhaps your mind goes all the way back to Eddie Belfour and Roman Turek in the 1998-99 Stanley Cup year?

Either way, it’s been a while, huh?

Dallas Stars
Dallas Stars /

Dallas Stars

For the past seven or eight years, the Dallas Stars have struggled desperately in the crease. After acquiring Kari Lehtonen in the 2009-10 season, the Stars expected him to be their no. 1 starter. But, in addition to that, it also seemed as though they expected him to be their no. 2 during a few seasons as well. And Lehtonen, as we saw, just was not up for a job like that (just as must goalies would not be).

A series of failed backup solutions ranging from Andrew Raycroft to Richard Bachman and Anders Lindback to Antti Niemi left the Dallas crease in shambles for a few seasons. Lehtonen would try his best to clean up the rubble on occasions, but when his work overload would mix with an unprepared and young defense, everything went to the toilet.

As a result of this multiyear struggle, goaltending seems to be the one thing that always holds this team back from being “elite.” It was largely blamed for their two eliminations from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the past five years and was also seen by many as their primary problem last season.

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So GM Jim Nill made a change this past summer and finally turned some heads towards the Dallas crease. In early May, he traded for and signed elite starter Ben Bishop to a long-term deal and beefed up the Stars’ goaltending unit as a result. Nill also bought out Niemi and subsequently moved Lehtonen, a regular starter for multiple years, to the backup role.

As the Stars’ season came into focus and kicked off, it looked as though the plague of inadequacy was set to continue in the Dallas net. Lehtonen was largely to blame for the loss on opening night to Vegas and gave up 61 goals through the first 20 games (3.05 goals against per game). While the team struggled to find its identity, the goaltenders simply struggled to keep the puck out of the net on a consistent basis.

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On some nights, the Stars had to put four or five goals on the board if they wanted to win. That reeked of the 2014-15 season, and we all know how that one turned out (though it did help Jamie Benn secure the Art Ross Trophy).

But then, something happened. There’s no exact way to put this, but the Stars goaltenders started to find their groove. They began developing chemistry and finding their niche and it started to pay off for the team in front of them.

And now that the Dallas Stars are 54 games into their 2017-18 campaign, it’s safe to say that this goaltending duo is playing with the utmost confidence and poise. They are showing off in a grand way and look like one of the best tandems in the league. But just how well is each one playing?

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  • Ben Bishop started the year as the undeniable starter and is still considered as such. He’s played in 41 games for Dallas this season and was the starter in 40 of them. After helping the Stars win four in a row in mid-October, he hit a massive rut. Bishop couldn’t post a save percentage above .900 on most nights and turned in largely inconsistent stretches of play up until mid-December.

    But since then, he’s been a rock solid starter. Since December 16, Bishop is 9-5-3 with a 2.05 GAA and .929 save percentage. He posted two shutouts over the 17-game span and started in 11 straight games.

    Most stat watchers would see this and think that something obviously had to be lacking in Lehtonen’s performance.

    Oh contraire. The Big Finn is riding an exceptional streak as well. In his last eight starts, Lehtonen is 6-2-0 with a 1.75 GAA and .936 save percentage. He is currently riding a four-game win streak and served as damage control this past weekend against Minnesota while Bishop recovered from a face injury.

    On Saturday, Lehtonen stopped 30 of 31 against the Wild in a crucial Central Division matchup. The win marked four straight for Lehtonen and was just his second win of the season at the American Airlines Center.

    “It’s huge,” Stars forward Tyler Seguin said of Lehtonen following the win over Minnesota. “You don’t want to see your goalie having to keep you in the game early on, but sometimes it happens and he did a heck of a job. Obviously, he’s been real hot on the road, but he’s playing just as good at home. It was good to see with him.”

    “It’s nice that I’m able to make a difference out there,” added Lehtonen after the game. “It was a tight game for 30 something minutes and then our offense just took over. That was really nice to see and it was fun to be back there.”

    On Monday night, Bishop one-upped Lehtonen’s performance and stopped 31 of 32 against the New York Rangers for another valuable two points. He made some grand saves, including one on a cross-crease pass on the NY power play that could very easily have given the Rangers a commanding 2-0 lead in the game.

    These two recent performances are just a small sampling size of the two goalies and the confidence that they have gained throughout this season.

    “We’re lucky,” said Dallas Stars head coach Ken Hitchcock after Saturday’s game. “I said before that you need two goalies to win. We’ll be fifth or sixth in the league tomorrow in goals against and that’s incredible because at one time we were twenty-sixth. The two goalies are quite frankly the major reason. Both guys have kept us in games and won us points and been there at the end. They’re the major reason the goals against is down so much.”

    Both goaltenders are adapting to their roles and are filling in the holes of the Dallas crease. At the moment, they look like one of the best duos in the NHL. In a stat for goalies that have played in at least 17 games this season in the NHL, both Lehtonen and Bishop rank in the top 15 in save percentage and goals against average.

    While there is still a lot of season left, the Dallas Stars crease is showing serious promise. That’s a positive sign for a team that’s had goaltending as their biggest worry over the past decade.

    “We’ve got two starters and we don’t have a backup,” said Stars defenseman Stephen Johns. “That’s their mentality and that’s our mentality. Whichever one is in, we know they’re going to get the job done for us and we’re going to play good in front of them.”

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    The Stars would be smart to continue exploiting this system and tandem that they now possess. It seems to be working on a consistent basis and the Stars’ playoff chances are increasing by the day as a result.

    That’s a pretty good combination to have working in your favor.