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'It's important to winning': Lindell leading way on Stars' penalty kill

Lauded by coaches as 'one of the smartest defensemen in the league,' the young Finn takes pride in his numbers

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Esa Lindell leads the NHL in penalty-killing time on ice at 76:40.

Now, that in itself is interesting, but you have to temper that statement with the fact the Stars have played 16 games (among the most in the NHL) and rank fourth in shorthanded time on ice at 76:40, so the opportunity for Lindell to lead in this department is certainly plausible.


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But the kicker is that Lindell has played 81.7 percent of his team's possible shorthanded minutes. Deryk Engelland has played 65.5 percent of Vegas' shorthanded time on ice. Travis Hamonic has logged 63.1 percent of Calgary's league-leading 103:33 -- and Lindell still is ahead of both. To be on the ice for more than 80 percent of your team's time on the penalty kill is pretty much bonkers.

Stars head coach Jim Montgomery said the penalty kill is under the direction of assistant coach Rick Bowness, so he lets Lindell and Bowness work out the details.

"I wouldn't let him stay out there for two minutes, but Bones is fine with it," Montgomery said with a laugh.

The reasons are fairly simple, Bowness said. One, Roman Polak has been out most of the season with a sternum injury and he played 52 percent of the penalty-killing minutes last season. And two, Lindell is really good.

"He is our best penalty killer and since we're missing Roman, we need him," Bowness said. "He's done a great job."

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Bowness said he and Lindell communicate with their eyes during any particular two-minute kill, and he believes they both know when a change of personnel is needed.

"There's times about a minute in when I'll look at him, and he'll give me a look like, `I'm fine,'" Bowness said. "He's smart enough to know when to come off, and he also knows that if he has his energy, then he wants to stay out there and keep playing. We read off each other, and more importantly I read off his body language and his play."

Lindell got a glimpse of this role in the playoffs last season when he played 86.5 percent of the Stars' shorthanded ice time in the post-season. It's worth noting that Dallas led all NHL teams in penalty-killing success in the playoffs at an astounding 94.6 success rate. That's after finishing fifth during the regular season at 82.8 percent.

The 25-year-old from Helsinki said he takes great pride in helping post numbers like that.

"It's important to winning," Lindell said. "Obviously, Bones makes sure everybody knows what we're doing. It's the same as 5-on-5 with pressure and blocking shots and rebounds. We're just trying to give them as little time as possible, and you hope it works out."

On Saturday, the Stars killed all five penalties in taking a 4-1 win over Montreal, moving up to 14th in the league at 81.8 percent. Dallas had a slow start in a lot of different elements, but goalie Ben Bishop said he likes how the team kills penalties under Bowness.

"The penalty kill was huge -- probably the difference in the game," Bishop said. "You know Bones did a great job of preparing us there, and the guys did a great job of executing it. Esa is such a smart player. He reads the play well and understands when to block the shot, when to get a stick out there, and is pretty smart the way he conserves his energy. He's not necessarily going 100 miles an hour, you know, running around like a chicken with his head cut off. He's really smart and he's able to kind of conserve some energy. I'm just happy he's on my team out there."

Video: MTL@DAL: Lindell on Stars' progression, special teams

Lindell is hitting his prime right now. He's played 255 games, and he signed a six-year contract extension that averages $5.8 million in the summer. That could increase the pressure on him to perform, but Bowness said he doesn't sense any stress in Lindell.

"Esa is one of the smartest defensemen in the league … in the league," Bowness said. "So my expectation for him is very high; it doesn't matter what his contract is. I know how smart he is, I know how competitive he is, and his skill level is better than you think. The offense is going to come for him, too, it's just a matter of time."

Lindell also is getting time on the power play and last season posted 11 goals and 21 assists for 32 points. He said he wants to do well at every level of play, but especially enjoys shutting down an opponent's power play.

"I want to disturb their PP. It's fun when it's working," he said. "I'm not just staying there for the full two minutes. If I'm feeling good, I want to stay there. It's one good element in my game."

And there are many good elements.

Sure, the penalty killing stands out right now, but Bowness said he's never surprised by what Lindell can accomplish -- now, and in the future.

"Of all the players when I came here last year that surprised me the most, he's No. 1," said Bowness, who joined the Stars last season. "I didn't realize what a good player he is."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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