The Big Mac Blog

The Stars still have a Kari problem

Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen’s 2.93 goals against average ranks 32nd in the NHL.
Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen’s 2.93 goals against average ranks 32nd in the NHL. Star-Telegram

The Easton stick to the groin region continues for fan of the Dallas Stars. Yes, the ‘s’ is not included on the word “fans” in the previous sentence deliberately. Let’s not kid ourselves.

Selling hockey outside of a limited number of markets in the U.S. is not easy, especially in Texas when the professional team insists on over-selling and under delivering.

The Dallas Stars lost 3-2 in a shootout on Tuesday night against the Colorado Avalanche. The Stars are now 23-19-8 with 54 points, good for dead last in the NHL’s Central Division. Wait, sorry ... hate to be negative; the Stars’ 54 points put them in a tie for sixth place in the division. The Stars are five points behind the Calgary Flames for the final spot in the West playoff race.

The Stars rank second in the NHL in scoring, and 27th in goals allowed. Until that trend changes, this team is doomed. There is plenty of blame to go around for this team’s inability (unwillingness?) to defend the puck, but at some point your goalie has to be better than the other goalie.

The game on Tuesday was the Stars season. They took a 2-0 lead, and then Kari Lehtonen was Kari Lehtonen. He allowed in a pair in the third period, but made a handful of impressive saves to keep the score tied. In a shootout that went 11 frames, twice the Stars handed Lehtonen a lead and both times he was unable to make the necessary stop for the win to earn that elusive second point.

The Stars have 32 games remaining, so there is time, but this is what we call a trend.

Bagging on Lehtonen may not be fair, but that is the nature of his position. The guys in front of him need to be better, but so does he. He is just good enough to be pretty good.

Lehtonen’s 2.93 goals against average ranks 32nd in the NHL, and his .905 save percentage is 33rd. (FYI - Lehtonen is the Stars second-highest paid player on the team, and he is signed through 2017.)

I asked Stars coach Lindy Ruff how he would assess Lehtonen’s season thus far.

“Kari has been like our team - he’s been a little inconsistent,” Ruff said. “He has had nights where he has been real good for us. Nights where he’s let in some tough goals that have allowed the opposition to get back into a game, or win a game. It’s the odd, tough goal at inopportune times have hurt us. There have been games where we have not been very good and he has held us in there ‘til we got our legs underneath us and we were able to win some games.”

Is it a matter of Lehtonen being better and the team is better?

“I don’t think it’s just that. I think our power play could have won us some games late,” Ruff said. “I don’t think it’s as simple as saying, ‘If Kari is better we win’. I think there are games where we could have made a difference in some other areas of the ice.”

Yes, Ruff is covering for his goalie, but he is not lying. The Stars defense has been, at times, bad as has their power play.

There is only one guy who can clean it up, and if this team is going to make a jump into the playoffs it has to be Kari Lehtonen.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @macengelprof