The Dallas Stars will need the best out of all players to end up qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but their netminders, Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen, are in Playoff form already.
For Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, it’s been a long and windy road for both Dallas Stars netminders, the two 33-year-olds that share the crease for the returning Central Division champions. In a fundamentally flawed two-goalie system with a young and inconsistent defense behind them, they’ve both played some of their best hockey to date in Victory Green this season.
So, where does this leave the Stars in their quest for stability? Well, the problem isn’t even goaltending at all.
In seasons like this, a mostly dreadful one where the Stars still hang two points out of a postseason berth, the goaltending from Niemi and Lehtonen is required to be nothing short of superb to make up for a lack of offense or puck movement. Has it ever.
In the month of December, where the Stars felt their season was effectively on the line, Kari Lehtonen pulled together a stretch in which the 2nd overall pick in the 2002 Draft boasted a .934% save percentage and a goals against average of 1.79 in nine games played. Niemi, from December 10th to January 10th, had a slash line of .922%/2.28, and both ranked in the NHL’s top-ten for that span.
Considering the difficulty of backstopping a team with a season-long struggle at special teams (18th-best power play at 17.1% and tied for the worst penalty kill in the league at 74.3%), a youthful defense with five blueliners under the age of 25, the injuries mentioned prior to this, and an offense that led the League in goals scored per game last year not having the same potency (2.66 G/GP, 15th in the NHL), the Stars should be placing statues of the two goalies outside of American Airlines Center this season.
The fans and critics can be quick to blame the goalies for the surprising demise of the Dallas Stars this season, but both Finnish 2014 Olympic bronze medalists have kept the ship from sinking all year long. The crease will be accompanied by these two veterans until further notice, and Stars fans shouldn’t have a problem with it.