Lehtonen Not the Problem
Kari Lehtonen is not the problem with the Dallas Stars. I find myself saying this two or three times a day to the Stars fans I talk to. Yes, Lehtonen has the highest goals against average of his career (3.10) and the second worst save percentage of his career (.902), but I think that this is a reflection of the players in front of him more than of Lehtonen.
The Dallas Stars’ defense this year has been one of the worst in the NHL. I am a big believer in the +/- statistic for defenders because I think it is a good reflection of what they are doing to help their team on the ice. Of all of the defenders on the Stars who have played at least 20 games, Alex Goligoski is the only one to have a positive number for his +/- score (+1). Goligoski is now being asked to keep this defense afloat on the first line even though his +/- score is what a team would prefer to see for a third line defensemen. His defensive partner, Trevor Daley, has the second worst +/- score in the entire NHL (-16). This defense has been so inept at stopping attackers that Lehtonen is on pace to see 2,057 shots against him this season, which would be the second highest total of his career and just the third time he’d have the opportunity to save more than 2,000 shots in a season. Defenders like Daley and Jordie Benn (-7) have worn down Lehtonen by forcing him to try to stop over 30 shots per game. This does not bode well for the Stars, who are just a little over a quarter of the way through their season.
The defense has not been the Stars only issue this season; their offense has not performed up to expectations either. Besides Tyler Seguin, who leads the league in goals (22) and points (36), the Stars offense has been mediocre. Seguin’s wingman Jamie Benn is having an off year so far for his typically high standards, with just 8 goals and 26 points on the season. Jason Spezza, who was the definition of consistency in Ottawa where he had seven straight seasons with at least 20 goals, has struggled to make an impact for this Dallas team. He has 17 assists but just five goals. The lack of offense has made Lehtonen’s job more difficult as well; he has allowed three goals or fewer in half of his 12 losses this season. If this offensive pace continues for the Stars, this will mark the third straight season that the team has had only two or fewer players score more than 20 goals, and teams typically don’t win with that lack of fire power. Since the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals (excluding the two lockout seasons), 11 of the 12 NHL champions have had three or more players on their team score 20+ goals. Six of those teams had at least five players score more than 20 goals on the season.
The Stars can’t continue to count on just two offensive players and their goaltender to carry them into the playoffs. Instead, there needs to be stronger team play all around to help get this team on track. The Stars have yet to have a win in games where Lehtonen has sat this year, so all of the pressure of this team lies on his shoulders. Kari Lehtonen is not the issue with the Dallas Stars. It’s the other ninteen players around him.