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Pacific: Defensive deficiencies dooming Stars

Wednesday, 10.29.2008 / 1:00 AM / Division Notebooks

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

"The goals-against is a joke. There're a lot of guilty parties out there. We've got flaws from some veteran players right now that we expect to be a lot better than they are. Our goaltending hasn’t been very good. You can't have an .820 save percentage and survive in this League and we've got a young guy behind him that's very unproven."
-- Stars coach Dave Tippett

Under Dave Tippett, the Dallas Stars never have been worse than sixth in the NHL in goals allowed. But the Stars' normally air-tight defense has sprung some leaks, and Tippett isn't happy about it.

The Stars entered Tuesday's games last in the NHL with 38 goals allowed in 9 games -- that's 4.22 goals allowed per game from a team that had a 2.49 goals-against average last season. Marty Turco's goals-against average is 4.26, nearly 2 goals a game more than 2007-08. The defensive problems are a big reason the team is off to a 3-4-2 start.

Tippett blasted his team and his goaltender after Saturday night's 6-5 overtime loss to Washington, a game that kept fans on the edge of their seats but drove the coach to distraction.

"The goals-against is a joke," Tippett said. "There're a lot of guilty parties out there. We've got flaws from some veteran players right now that we expect to be a lot better than they are. Our goaltending hasn’t been very good. You can't have an .820 save percentage and survive in this League and we've got a young guy behind him that's very unproven."

Longtime goaltending consultant Andy Moog, a former Star, spent some time on the ice with Turco and rookie backup Tobias Stephan prior to Sunday's practice. Tippett said Moog would be back again Tuesday to work with them prior to Wednesday's home game with Minnesota.

"He looks at it through a goaltender's perspective," Tippett said of Moog. "He knows the movements, he knows the idiosyncrasies of the goaltender's position. He's lived them, he's studied them, he knows them."

Mr. Perfect -- Brian Boucher knew when he re-signed with the San Jose Sharks that his role was to back up Evgeni Nabokov -- an assignment that could make him the Maytag Repairman of the NHL (for younger readers, check out some old TV ads on YouTube). If nothing else, he's making the most of his opportunities.

Boucher got his second start of the season at Tampa Bay on Oct. 25, and for the second time in as many games, he pitched a shutout, stopping all 22 shots he faced. He was 21-for-21 in shutting out Los Angeles in the Kings' home opener Oct. 13.

"Right now, it's been 2 wins and 2 shutouts, but I wouldn't look too much into it," Boucher said. "It's more of a byproduct of the guys playing well."

The Sharks gave Boucher lots of help at the St. Pete Times Forum, outshooting Tampa Bay 45-22 and keeping the Lightning's opportunities to a minimum. The Sharks' domination was so thorough Lightning coach Barry Melrose said his team's performance "was very embarrassing."

"We didn't give them a chance to get going," Boucher said. "When you play offense in their end the amount of minutes that we did, that's the best defense you can have. It keeps their guys on the ice, and gives them nothing offensively."

Despite Boucher's perfection, coach Todd McLellan isn't about to start handing Boucher a lot of additional playing time. McLellan said he had decided when he looked at the schedule to give Boucher the start against Tampa Bay. As for more work for Boucher, all the coach would say was that, "as the schedule starts to evolve and we get into some busy stretches, we'll again plan ahead and make sure that he gets his opportunity to play."

Welcome back -- San Jose's victory at Tampa Bay made for a happy homecoming for ex-Lightning defensemen Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich, both of whom were dealt by the Lightning during the summer. The two were members of Tampa Bay's Cup-winning team in 2004.

Boyle had an assist on the game's first goal -- and a smile on his face after getting a warm reception from the crowd in Tampa.

"It meant a lot to me and Luk," Boyle said. "A pretty emotional game. Leaving here without the win would have been (bad). Plus, we have a five-hour flight home."

Mom and Dad are there -- Mikkel Boedker's parents had to settle for watching their son's first 2 NHL goals in the pre-dawn hours via the Internet. They saw No. 3 live and in person.

Lene and Jesper Boedker journeyed from their home in Denmark to see their son play, and were rewarded when he scored the game-tying goal early in the third period against Washington in a game the Coyotes rallied to win, 2-1.

Jesper is a metal worker and Lene is a nurse. Jesper said watching Mikkel play games in the middle of the night on his computer and then waking up and going to work can be a surreal experience.

"I have to pinch myself in the arm because suddenly he's playing with all the big guys in the NHL," Jesper told the Coyotes' Web site. "We'll watch the games from 4 o'clock in the morning until 6, sleep for half an hour, then go to work. Then when I get to work, I’m thinking to myself, 'Did I really just see Mikkel in the NHL or was I dreaming?'"

Lene said her son's arrival in the NHL has generated a lot of media attention in Denmark, where hockey is a distant third to soccer and handball on the pecking order.

"Right now he's on the television and in the papers every day," she said. "It's amazing because hockey is nothing in Denmark. I think we have like 19 rinks in the country for 5 million people."

Big guys -- If nothing else, the Los Angeles Kings are bigger on the blue line this season.

After adding several newcomers, the Kings' defense this season averages 6-foot-1 1/2-inches and 214 1/2 pounds. That's 1 inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than the 8 blueliners who played for the Kings last season.

The Kings have to be thrilled with one of the newcomers -- 2008 top draft pick Drew Doughty (6-1, 219). Though he has only 1 point (a goal) in his first 8 NHL games, Doughty is a plus-7, including plus-3 in a 4-0 win at St. Louis on Oct. 24. He also has taken just 2 minor penalties in the 8 games.

 
 
Ice chips -- Happily for the Sharks, they don't see the Florida Panthers and goaltender Tomas Vokoun again this season. Vokoun improved to 10-1-1 in his last 12 starts against the Sharks by making 47 saves in a 4-3 victory at Florida on Oct. 24. … Shattered sticks are nothing new in an NHL game, and even glass panels shatter on occasion. But no one at the Caps-Coyotes game Oct. 23 had ever seen anything like what happened when Shane Doan took a slap shot that hit the glass -- only to see the puck shatter into two pieces. Doan must have some shot -- or the Coyotes need to freeze the pucks a little better. … Jeff Quinney, the PGA player sponsored by the Coyotes, finished tied for 35th at the Frys.com Open in Scottsdale, Ariz. He shot a 68 in Sunday's final round. … Despite their overtime loss to Washington, the Stars still are 9-1-2 against the Capitals in Dallas since the franchise moved from Minnesota in 1993. They're 12-2-3 overall since 1996-97. … Mike Ribeiro's 5-point game in Dallas' 5-3 win over the New York Islanders on Oct. 23 was a career high. He had only 4 points all season before his big night. … Anaheim added some speed on defense by signing Bret Hedican, who at 38 still is one of the NHL's best skaters. Hedican had 2 goals and 17 points in 66 games with Carolina last season. "He's a proven winner and class act," Ducks GM Brian Burke said. … Los Angeles center Michal Handzus had 6 points in the Kings' first 8 games; it took him 31 games to get than many last season. … One area in which the Kings markedly have improved is penalty-killing. They allowed just 3 goals in their first 35 times shorthanded, putting them third in the NHL in the early going. They were last in the League last season. … Drew Doughty and Oscar Moller scored their first NHL goals Oct. 20 against Colorado. The last time the Kings had two players score their first NHL goal in the same game was Oct. 8, 1989, when Craig Duncanson and Mikael Lindholm had their first goals in a 5-0 win over Detroit. … The Kings will show off their new alternate jersey for the first time Nov. 22 against Colorado at the Staples Center. They'll wear their regular jerseys during warmups before switching prior to game time.

Material from wire services and team Web sites was used in this report
Quote of the Day

There was a lot of talk off the ice. From a player's standpoint, that's not the talk in the room. GMs make decisions, coaches make decisions, but as a team you have to come together and be ready to go, and we are.

— San Jose Sharks forward Tommy Wingels on his team's approach entering training camp