Many fans enjoy being armchair coaches or general managers, and with the power of hindsight, they tend to think they would have done a thing or two differently that would have helped attain better results. For the Dallas Stars, the debates about the defensive unit and Kari Lehtonen’s work rate continue to rage on, especially after a loss. As far as Tuesday night’s loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, coach Lindy Ruff made the right decisions.
While some fans would like to see Kevin Connauton in the lineup more often, Ruff made the right decision to put Aaron Rome in the game Monday night and Connauton in for Tuesday’s game. Rome is a stay-at-home defenseman with a big physical presence. He is not the fastest skater by far, but he leans on experience and a calm demeanor to do his job.
Not that the Winnipeg Jets are slow, but they are more known for their size on offense; converted defenseman Dustin Byfuglien and Blake Wheeler are two prime examples. Keeping the Blackhawks game in mind, Ruff looked to Rome for a defensive setup that he hoped would help shut down a team the Stars were expected to beat. Rome was better suited to handle the big bodies and physicality of the Jets than the speed and skill of the Blackhawks. He ended up with an even rating in 10:14 of play in a 2-1 win over the Jets.
Against Chicago, the Stars would need some more offense and a lot more speed in their lineup. The Blackhawks are too deep, skilled and fast to risk trying a slower, shutdown game. Connauton kept with the Blackhawks in terms of speed and energy, but the Stars in general could not. They seemed to fade after the first period. Connauton ended up with 12:45 of ice time with a minus-one rating in a 4-2 loss to the defending Stanley Cup champions. He has shown promise over the past two seasons, but his time will come.
Playing Lehtonen was not a sign of a lack of faith in Tim Thomas. Lehtonen is the team’s primary goalie, and he has shown over the past four seasons that he is more than capable of handling a heavy workload. As long as he is playing well, they need to ride him down the stretch. He needs the eventual night off to rest, but he there was a good reason to play him in back-to-back games. Lehtonen was in the zone Monday night against the Jets. He showed he was on top of his game with 32 saves on 33 shots. The lone goal that beat Lehtonen came on a 5-on-3 advantage in the final three minutes of the game.
Lehtonen had played in back-to-back games earlier this season without incident, and he played too well to be sat the following night. A slick power play goal, a turnover in the defensive zone, and a screened point shot found their way past Lehtonen, and none were due to fatigue. His 38 saves kept the Stars in the game, and gave them a chance to rally to a one-goal deficit twice. The fatigued Stars just did not have an answer for the Blackhawks. Expect Lehtonen to play a majority of the 10 remaining games for the Stars.
Roster debates will continue on for the rest of the season, especially for a team fighting for a playoff spot, but Ruff and the Stars’ management made the right decisions so far this week.