The first month of the NHL season is just about in the books, and the Dallas Stars are sitting at an average level. Are the goalies truly to blame? Or is it a mixture of multiple factors that are hindering them?
NHL goaltenders never seem to be able to catch a break.
When their team is doing extremely well, people are quick to give all the credit to the offense or defense. But when their team is doing anything less than spectacular, the blame is all shifted to the last line of defense: the man in the crease.
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For the Dallas Stars, the scenario is no different and has not been for years now. When the team is succeeding (as they did in 2015-16), the offense is given all of the praise (even though it rightfully deserved the majority of it). But in other years where the Stars either struggle out of the gate or later in the year, Kari Lehtonen and company have been the ones put in the crosshairs.
If the Stars could be labeled with one word this season, it would probably have to be “inconsistent” or “frustrating.” Injuries have played a role large role in cutting Dallas off at the knees, and they have simply been trying to catch up over the last few games.
In the absence of Patrick Sharp, Jason Spezza, Cody Eakin, and Ales Hemsky, the Stars have had some trouble running a tight shift. Rookies have been thrust into big situations and the Stars have struggled to bring the same level of energy and preparedness to each contest.
Their inconsistent play has yet to leave them alone this season, holding them at a record of 4-5-3. They are currently holding onto the last wild card spot in the Western Conference, but should be much higher up than they actually are.
And who does everyone want to blame? The goaltenders. Going off of last season’s play, many Stars fans are calling on the play of Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen to be better and more influential. If the Dallas Stars team as a whole is struggling on a given night, so why are the expectations for the goaltenders set through the roof?
Sure Lehtonen’s .895 save percentage and 2.86 goals against average aren’t the strongest in the NHL. Niemi’s .900 SV% and 3.31 GAA aren’t much more impressive. But that doesn’t mean these losses are their fault. That simply means they are being relied on too much.
With all of the injuries that have piled up over the last two months, the Dallas Stars have lost a hefty chunk of depth scoring. They are sporting a young defensive cast this season and need all the help they can get both on offense and in the crease while the blue line adjusts to the high speed and demand of the NHL.
Yet the goaltenders are the ones receiving the flack (as they always seem to do). The defense isn’t taking the blame. And neither is the offense, even when they struggle to put one goal on the board. Everyone says, “I knew that goaltending tandem wasn’t going to work. Get rid of it while you still can, Jim Nill. You’re going to be sorry if you don’t.”
What people aren’t catching is the fact that the play by these goaltenders could be considered one of the main reasons why the Stars have a majority of these wins, especially from early in the season. Their goaltending has carried them a long way this year and is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was, believe it or not.
So before you go after Niemi or Lehtonen’s head in an upcoming game, ask yourself if they are truly the problem. Or were they just the easiest position to attack? They can be blamed for certain aspects, but certainly should not be the primary ones bearing the blame title.
The Dallas Stars have a lot of problems with the current makeup of their team, and goaltending is not a prime contributors to these issues. Will the goaltending fall into the same trip, or will they help be part of the solution?