The Big Mac Blog

Dallas Stars’ biggest challenge is knowing when to change the goalie

It defies hockey conventional wisdom and it is rather bizarre to witness but Lindy Ruff’s goalie roulette may actually work. If it doesn’t, don’t blame him for trying. He has no other choice.

Personally, I hate playoff goalie juggling but this is Ruff’s best option. He has two decent goalies on his roster and his best play is to try the one who is “on” and pray it remains that way for an entire game.

The Dallas Stars are tied at one game in their second round playoff series against the St. Louis Blues, which is the way it should be. The difference between these two teams is fractional, or a goalie who is more on than the other.

Both Stars’ goalies Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi have been rotated throughout the regular season without complaint and it has continued deep into the playoffs, and for good reason. Neither of these two Fins has separated himself.

2016 NHL Playoff Statistics:

Lehtonen: 4-1, 2.45 goals against average, .906 save percentage

Niemi: 1-2, 2.73 goals against average, .892 save percentage

Props to Ruff for having the man parts to pull Lehtonen after he allowed three goals in the first period on Sunday in the Stars’ 4-3 overtime loss in Game 2.

The defense in front of Lehtonen on two of the goals he let it on Sunday was atrocious; it would be hard to fault him. One shot flew by him that no goalie could stop.

Ruff would have been justified to stay with Lehtonen but his gut told him he had to make a switch. No matter the explanation, Lehtonen allowed three goals on five shots in the first period of a playoff game. That warrants an eviction.

At that point the change was not going to hurt. It is apparent that both goalies are accustomed to switching, and OK with this rotation. There is no risk in “losing” one of these guys to pouting.

In relief, Niemi was good - he stopped 19 of 20 shots, including all 15 on even-strength. The only goal Niemi allowed was the game-winner that came on a power play in overtime.

In this playoff season, the Stars are 0-2 in overtime games. Niemi was in net both times.

As a rule of thumb in the playoffs, it really helps to win overtimes games.

As to who starts on Tuesday night for Game 3 in St. Louis, the safe guess is Niemi. Don’t be surprised if Lehtonen starts Game 4.

The Stars have demonstrated that in the playoffs they can play “playoff hockey” - conservative without taking too many chances. But the strength of this team is speed and skill. When you have that talent, you go and your defensemen pinch. It can work, but it will leave a goalie vulnerable every so often.

For this to “work” for the Stars the goalie is going to have to make odd-man rush saves. Lehtonen and Niemi have both demonstrated throughout their respective careers they can do this. The trick for Ruff is putting the right Fin on the ice at the right time to do it.

Mac Engel: 817-390-7697, tengel@star-telegram.com, @macengelprof

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