The News in Net
With the return of Kari Lehtonen in net, the Dallas Stars look to get back to their winning ways. Lehtonen had missed 13 games with a lower body injury. During that stretch the Stars posted a lackluster 7-6 record. Perhaps the biggest effect of Lehtonen’s absence was the battle that emerged between goaltenders Andrew Raycroft and Richard Bachman for the starting position.
Although Raycroft started the first five games in Lehtonen’s absence, the team went 2-3, and Raycroft allowed 16 goals in that timespan. The coaching staff decided to give the young prospect Bachman a shot in net, and he has posted a 5-2 record, a 2.76 GAA, and a .912 SV%–not bad stats for a rookie.
Because of this, Stars management has decided that Bachman should be the backup goaltender behind Lehtonen, and Raycroft was placed on waivers this week. If Raycroft is not claimed by another team, he will be sent to the AHL Texas Stars. Raycroft had struggled throughout his tenure in a Dallas Stars uniform, and although he did not face many injury problems, he displayed a reliable inconsistency in net over the past two seasons.
Recap and Preview
In Lehtonen’s first game back against the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets, the Stars fell 4-1, giving up an empty-netter with 2 seconds left in regulation as well as plenty of giveaways throughout the course of the game–definitely not the performance the Stars wanted to put on in Lehtonen’s return. The Stars looked uninspired and flat throughout the game, and this led to numerous turnovers in their own zone. Because Lehtonen bailed the team out with a few nice saves in those situations, the score ultimately could have been much worse. If Dallas hopes to earn a “W” over the red-hot Boston Bruins in their next game, the Stars will have to put up a solid 60-minute performance. The Bruins have shown they are an improved team over last season’s Stanley Cup victory — the Bruins offense is much more of a threat this season — and Lehtonen will be called upon to make a plethora of stops if the Stars want to keep the game close. Expect an intense and physical game between the Stars and Bruins, as the past two years the teams have met has seen numerous fights (last year’s matchup included two separate fights at the opening puck drop).
Mid-season Acquisition Overview
As we approach the mid-year mark, let’s take a look at how some of the offseason and early season acquisitions have panned out for the Stars. General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk’s three biggest signings in the offseason were defenseman Sheldon Souray and wingers Michael Ryder and Radek Dvorak. Although Souray has had his share of mistakes, he has proven to be instrumental on the Dallas blueline, posting 4 goals, 12 assists, and a +9 +/- rating through 34 games.
Indeed, Souray has shown himself to be everything the Stars have hoped, as his physical presence and blistering slap shot have become important characteristics of the Stars defense and powerplay this season. Up front, Michael Ryder currently leads the Stars in goals with 14 through 36 games. Ryder has given the Stars a right-handed sniper on the powerplay, and he has proven himself worthy of a top-six position. Dvorak has also been solid this season. Although he has a -2 +/- rating thus far, his 3 goals and 14 assists have helped make the third line more of an offensive threat, and he has also helped to improve the Stars penalty-killing unit. In the opening weeks of the season, the Star were also forced to make an acquisition in order to stay above the league’s minimum salary cap requirements (when the Rangers demoted Sean Avery, it impacted the Stars salary cap, as the team is still responsible for a portion of Avery’s contract). Although the Stars management wanted to add a quality player — not just a body to fix the salary cap issue — the acquisition of winger Eric Nystrom has panned out far better than anyone could have hoped. Through 31 games with the Stars, Nystrom has already topped his season-best goals mark (previously 11 in 82 games) with 12 goals. Nystrom also has a +2 rating, and his potent wrist shot provides a valuable scoring threat on the Stars bottom-six.
On the injury front, the Stars look to patch the holes left by the injuries to Sheldon Souray, Stephane Robidas, and, most recently, Brenden Morrow. It’s unclear whether or Morrow will be in the lineup for the New Year’s Eve game against the Bruins.