Stars’ Lehtonen shining on Eastern swing
In recent years, the Dallas Stars’ annual trips through the New York metropolitan area have been disappointments. Kari Lehtonen is making this holiday season’s visit one to remember.
Fresh off a milestone win, Lehtonen looks to extend a personal run over the New Jersey Devils and lift Dallas to its sixth victory in seven road games on Friday night at Prudential Center.
Starting in 2014-15, the Stars have been outscored 47-33 while posting a 4-7-1 record when traveling to face the Devils, New York Islanders and New York Rangers.
A starter for much of his 14 NHL seasons, Lehtonen is relegated to a backup role behind Ben Bishop. However, the 34-year-old Finn has Dallas (18-13-1) in position to complete the sweep.
On Monday, Lehtonen stopped 24 shots through overtime and two of three tries in the shootout of a 2-1 victory over the Rangers. Two nights later, he earned his 300th win by registering 32 saves in a 5-2 triumph over the Islanders.
“It’s nice to be up there, that’s a big number for a goalie,” said Lehtonen, selected second overall in the 2002 draft by the Atlanta Thrashers. “Never really thought I’d get that.”
On Thursday, the Stars said on Twitter that Lehtonen will start against New Jersey with Bishop slated to face the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday in the finale of a four-game road trip.
Lehtonen (6-5-1, 2.44 goals-against average, .913 save percentage) has not won three straight since last Dec. 23-29. He’s surrendered just eight goals while winning four straight starts over New Jersey.
Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock, who needs one win for 800 in his career, realizes how fortunate he is to have essentially two No. 1 goaltenders to draw upon.
“We’re in the winning business,” he told the team’s official website. “(Lehtonen is) helping us win games. The way our goaltenders are structured — everybody calls it a starter. We added Ben Bishop because we want to win. And that’s why Kari’s still here because it’s a luxury not many teams have.
“Look at all the uncomfortable situations teams have been put in when there’s an injury. We’re in a real great situation because we got two guys who can start in the National Hockey League. Why not take advantage of it?”
Over the last six road games, 12 Stars have scored with six netting multiple goals, led by Radek Faksa (four). Remi Elie, Mattias Janmark, Tyler Pitlick, Brett Ritchie and Tyler Seguin each have two.
“When the secondary guys can step up and get some goals, it’s huge and you win a lot of games when that happens,” said Pitlick, who recorded his second two-goal game of the season on Wednesday.
Dallas may need those players to keep stepping up. Alexander Radulov, one of four Stars with at least 10 goals and fourth on the team with 26 points, played a season-low 14:10 before leaving in the third period with an injury. It’s not known if he will play Friday.
The Devils return home hoping to avoid their fourth loss in five games after falling 2-1 in overtime to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday.
Red-hot Stefan Noesen scored on the first shot of the game for New Jersey (17-9-5), which got 34 saves from Corey Schneider.
Noesen who managed a goal and an assist in his first 19 games, has two goals and four assists in a five-game points streak despite averaging only around 13 minutes per contest.
“My game’s finally starting to come a little bit,” said Noesen, a native of Plano, Texas. “I’m starting to kind of come into my own. But there was a game in there where I got a lucky bounce.”
The Devils, 2-2-2 in their last six against Dallas, have dropped two straight in the second of back-to-back games.
Like its opponent, New Jersey also has a key player who is day-to-day. Taylor Hall, who leads the team in assists (20) and points (31), suffered a knee contusion after scoring twice in Tuesday’s win over the Los Angeles Kings and did not face the Canadiens.
If Hall is out for extended period, the Devils may lean on three youngsters for offense. Forwards Jesper Bratt (nine goals, 12 assists) and 2017 top overall draft pick Nico Hischier (five goals, 15 assists), and defenseman Will Butcher (two goals, 18 assists) are all in the top 10 among rookie scorers.
Since joining the Devils in 2013, Schneider is 4-2-1 with a 2.16 GAA, a .924 save percentage and one shutout versus Dallas.
Keith Kinkaid, who’s surrendered 10 goals in two losses this month, is 0-0-1 with a 1.26 GAA and .951 save percentage in three games (one start) against the Stars.