The Dallas Stars are 7-6-1 on the season and have somehow found a way to overcome a lack of scoring. Part of the reason for their success has been the play of goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who is 7-2-1 with a 2.17 goals against average.
In the four games that have seen the team turn to a back-up goaltender, be it Cristopher Nilstorp or Richard Bachman, they have lost. A Wednesday night loss to the Calgary Flames showcased every flaw of Bachman’s game as he allowed six goals on 23 shots. The lack of a solid back-up option makes it clear that Lehtonen needs to be playing more, whether it’s on back-to-back nights or not.
In this shortened season it was expected that there would be more pressure than usual on some netminders. It was also assumed that those goalies who are used to starting the lion’s share of their teams’ games (like Lehtonen) would be fairly successful. So far that is proving true, and the Stars need to look at keeping Lehtonen between the pipes as often as possible.
The Stars have only faced games on back-to-back nights four times this season and have a pretty favorable schedule for the near future. Lehtonen won the season opener against the Phoenix Coyotes and then Nilstorp took the loss the following night.
The next time the team faced two games in two nights was at the end of January when Lehtonen took a hard-luck 2-1 loss Jan. 28 to the Columbus Blue Jackets and returned to the net for a 4-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings Jan. 29. This remains the only time Lehtonen has gone on consecutive nights for the Stars, and maybe it’s why they have shied away from doing it again.
The bottom line here is that Lehtonen got little goal support from his team in either of those games, and is still a better option on little or no rest than Bachman is after a week off. If the Stars want to move up in the standings, they obviously need to score more goals, but they also need to turn Lehtonen into a workhorse goaltender who may start 30-35 of their games this season.