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Friday Notes: Ruff, Lehtonen Talk Goaltending Situation

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

After Thursday’s 5-3 loss to Tampa Bay, coach Lindy Ruff said the Stars needed goaltender Kari Lehtonen to be better. The message was the same following Friday morning’s practice in Frisco.

“We need him to be better. There is no masquerading that point,” Ruff said when asked about his No. 1 goaltender. “Met with him again this morning. We’ll just take it one game at a time here. It seems like every night the other goalie is outdueling us.”

Lehtonen allowed four goals on 28 shots in Thursday’s game. Tampa Bay scored on its first two shots, but the goal that rubbed Ruff the wrong way was the Lightning’s third goal. It came on the power play and gave the Lightning a 3-2 lead. Nikita Kucherov slapped a cross-ice pass to Tyler Johnson, who fired a shot from the right circle that went by Lehtonen’s glove as he slid across the crease trying to make the save.

“That power play goal last night is where I need my goalie to make a stop,” Ruff said. “That’s a read on his part. I said we needed a save last night, and I’ll still stick by that. There’s a pass that goes across, and he should be easily getting across to make that save. There’s no more than that to me.”

Ruff wasn’t the only one talking Friday. Lehtonen talked to the media as well. As for Thursday’s game, he said he’d try to learn from it and move on.

“You want to go through all the situations and learn from them,” he said. “Then you try to forget, start from the clean slate again and focus on the next game.”

On that meeting with Ruff, he called it productive.

“I think they always are,” Lehtonen said. “We’re both trying to do the same thing, help the team win and find ways to be more productive and more successful out there. It’s good stuff.”

This season has been a tough one for Lehtonen. His 21 wins (21-12-8) rank 12th in the league, but his other numbers are lagging. Among the 42 goaltenders who qualify to be ranked among the league leaders, he ranks 32nd in goals against average (2.96) and 34th in save percentage (.904). Those numbers aren’t close to the 2.41 GAA and .919 save percentage he posted last season.

“I want to be more patient. When things aren’t going great, you try to do too much. That’s not good,” Lehtonen said. “I just need to take a step back, being more patient in situations and read what’s happening out there better and put a solid 60 minutes together.”

Nobody is sugarcoating Lehtonen’s season to date. But there’s a lot of hockey left to be played, and the hope is he’ll get on track.

“If you ask anyone, including Kari, he knows he’s been inconsistent,” said Stars GM Jim Nill. “He’s shown in the past he can be an elite goalie. Everybody has their ups and downs, and he’s just got to learn how to manage those good times with the bad times.”

With almost 500 NHL games under his belt, Lehtonen has seen his share of good times and bad times, and he believes that will help him ride out the storm.

“Goaltending is a lot of mind games,” he said. “I just have to keep telling myself that I am a really good goalie; there’s a reason why I am here and keep that in mind. Try to smile sometimes, too.”

Lindback recalled, Rynnas to Texas

The Stars have recalled goaltender Anders Lindback from his conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars and reassigned goaltender Jussi Rynnas to Texas.

Lindback played two games with Texas during the assignment, going 1-0-1 and stopping 66 of 70 shots. Stars coach Lindy Ruff said Lindback is expected to start one of the two games this weekend, but he didn’t indicate which one. The Stars play at Buffalo Saturday and at the New York Rangers Sunday.

Injury notes: Possible March return for Nemeth, Nichushkin

*Stars GM Jim Nill said if all goes well defenseman Patrik Nemeth and forward Valeri Nichushkin could return sometime in March. Nemeth has been out since Oct. 18 when he suffered an arm laceration. Nichushkin underwent hip surgery on Nov. 18.

“They are on schedule. I would say they are anywhere from three to six weeks away still,” Nill said. “They are starting to skate, which is good. It’s a time thing of healing. I think sometime in March is what we are hoping for.”

*Forward Erik Cole did not practice Friday. It was a maintenance day for Cole.

“We will probably have a few more of these with all the games we are playing,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff.

*Forward Travis Moen (lower body) did not practice Friday. Moen went on injured reserve Thursday.

“Moen’s got a lower body injury that we are trying to get him through,” Ruff said.

Stars hit the road: First stop, Buffalo

The Dallas Stars hit the road for three games. They’ll play at Buffalo (Saturday), New York Rangers (Sunday) and Boston (Tuesday).

Saturday’s game will be Ruff’s second trip back to Buffalo since being let go as coach of the Sabres, whom he coached for 16 seasons. There was a lot of fanfare surrounding Ruff’s first trip back to Buffalo last season. This time around it is all about the two points. And Ruff has some concerns as the Stars take on the Sabres, who have the worst record in the NHL at 15-34-3.

“It’s completely different,” Ruff said of going back to Buffalo. “Now, we are just going back to play a game. Obviously, it’s an important game. They’ve played better lately. They played a tough game (against St. Louis) last night and beat Montreal the game before. These are the games that scare me more than any other game. They scare me more than playing a good team.

“Their effort is going to be good. I don’t want our team to take a team with a lesser record (lightly) because I think those teams still have a lot of pride and there are younger players trying to push for positions. I think that team has beaten Montreal three times this season and look what Montreal’s record is.”

Buffalo’s win over Montreal on Tuesday snapped a 14-game losing streak. On Thursday, the Sabres played St. Louis to a scoreless tie through 38 minutes before eventually falling, 3-0.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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