Well, at the very least they got the bleeding to stop. Heading into their Thursday night game against the New Jersey Devils, the Dallas Stars had allowed 18 goals in their previous three games, losing all three in the process. The end result Thursday night was certainly better to the eye, a 1-0 regulation loss, but it was only due to stellar goaltending from Kari Lehtonen that the Stars were able to stay in the game.
During the now four-game losing stretch, the Stars’ defense has been awful. When a team allows totals of six, five and seven, a certain amount of that falls on the goalie, the goalie can only do so much when the team in front of him is allowing an average of 33 shots against per game. Admittedly, going into the game in New Jersey, Lehtonen hadn’t played his best (more on that here). He rebounded Thursday night, making several tough saves, keeping the Stars in striking distance.
On the lone Devils goal, former Stars forward Michael Ryder was left alone in a soft spot a few feet in front of Lehtonen, where he took advantage of a nice pass from Travis Zajac. Ryder made a perfect shot to the stick side of Lehtonen to post the only score of the game.
New Jersey had several prime chances throughout the remainder of the game. In addition to the Ryder goal, at least two other Devils scoring chances came from that same soft spot inside the defensive box, about five feet in front of Lehtonen. There was a breakaway by Mike Sislo that resulted in Lehtonen shutting down the five hole, barely keeping the game scoreless. There were several deflections in tight that Lehtonen was able to get a pad, shoulder or elbow on that could have easily given the Devils insurance on the scoreboard.
When Stephane Robidas was lost earlier this season, the defense took a massive hit. It struggled when Trevor Daley and Sergei Gonchar were briefly out of the lineup.
With a blue line composed of younger players like Brenden Dillon, Kevin Connauton and Jordie Benn there are going to be stretches where there are growing pains like what the Stars have experienced recently.
The Stars still have veterans like Alex Goligoski, Daley and Gonchar and simply put, have too much experience to continue to make these kinds of defensive errors. Thursday night in New Jersey looked better on the scoreboard, but the defense still has a long way to go.