After some struggles earlier in the season, Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen has turned things around recently. His play has been a key reason the Stars are on their current run, which includes six wins in their last seven games.
“The games have gone better as of late,” Lehtonen said. “There are still many things that have to go right for me to be successful. I’ve been getting a lot of help from the players; they are blocking shots right now, and that makes my job easier.”
Over his last seven starts, Lehtonen is 5-1-0 with a 2.47 goals against average and .914 save percentage. While those numbers don’t jump out at you, they are far better than the 3.10 goals against average and .902 save percentage he put up in his first 23 games this season.
But Lehtonen’s importance during this run hasn’t been about numbers. It’s been his ability to deliver big saves at key times. For example, there was great glove save on Radim Vrbata on the first shift of the Dec. 17 game in Vancouver, which prevented the Canucks from grabbing an early lead. The Stars went on to win that game 2-0. There were big saves on T.J. Oshie and Alex Pietrangelo as the Stars protected a 4-3 lead in St. Louis Saturday night. Monday night, Lehtonen came up with a huge stop on a point-blank shot by Dan Boyle that preserved the Stars’ lead in a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers.
“After a little bit of a rough start it’s nice to be able to help the team and really make a difference in the games,” Lehtonen said. “That’s my job and I am glad I’ve been able to do it lately. Hopefully, I can continue that same thing.”
Lehtonen said not much has changed with his game recently. He said he’s tried to be a little more patient in net. It’s the same kind of approach he takes when riding out the rough patches that are going to pop up over the course of a long season.
“There are some nights you don’t sleep as well but I keep telling myself that I’ve played almost 500 games in this league. I’ve done this. I know how to be a goalie,” he said. “That helps for me. I am getting a little older, so I don’t get too excited when things are going well and too much down when things aren’t that good.”
Smarter third periods
With Monday night’s win over the Rangers, the Stars improved to 11-1-2 when leading after two periods. The Stars, who struggled to hold third period leads earlier in the season, have won the last nine times they’ve led after two periods.
Stars coach Lindy Ruff was asked Tuesday if his team was mentally stronger now in third periods.
“You can use the word stronger. I am going to use the word smarter,” Ruff said. “We are smarter than we were earlier in the year. Earlier in the year, we were going by plays. We were on the wrong side of the puck. I don’t think it had anything to do with being mentally weak. I think players were still trying to create offense when we were leading games and the other team had the puck.”
Ruff looking to get Oleksiak in a game
Stars defenseman Jamie Oleksiak hasn’t played in an NHL game in almost two weeks, and Stars coach Lindy Ruff said he would like to change that. Oleksiak spent the weekend in the AHL where he played three games in three nights for the Texas Stars. His last NHL game was Dec. 19 in Calgary.
“I am going to get Oleksiak some playing time again,” Ruff said. “Jyrki [Jokipakka] the last couple games has struggled a little bit at times, but his development has come along. Any young player goes through ups and downs. The best thing for these guys is to be playing. To get Jamie three games in three nights (in the AHL) and 20-plus minutes and play as well as he did down there. … I thought he played a heck of game for us in Calgary, and I am anxious to see him play.”
Oleksiak has played 22 NHL games this season, registering one goal, three assists while averaging 15:51 of playing time.
Practice notes: Maintenance day for Jordie Benn
Stars defenseman Jordie Benn did not practice Tuesday.
“Jordie is nursing a little bit of an injury,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “We are just giving him a little bit of maintenance time.”
There were no changes in the forward lines at Tuesday’s practice. Jamie Oleksiak took Benn’s spot on the defense pair with Jason Demers.
Here was Tuesday’s practice lineup:
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Colton Sceviour
Erik Cole – Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Ryan Garbutt
Shawn Horcoff – Vernon Fiddler – Travis Moen/Travis Morin
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Jyrki Jokipakka – Trevor Daley
Jamie Oleksiak – Jason Demers
Not skating: Jordie Benn (maintenance)
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.