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Tag:Glen Gulutzan
Posted on: March 8, 2012 12:15 pm
Edited on: March 8, 2012 12:25 pm
 

NHL Award Races: Breaking down coaches, GMs

Hitchcock has pointed St. Louis in the right direction at each and every turn. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Welcome to Award Races. For every week the remainder of the season, we will break down two of the awards races at a time and see how they are stacking up as the NHL season hits the home stretch.

When it comes to coaches, it feels like nearly half lost their jobs at some point this season. Truth is, it's actually one shy of a 1/3, which is still an astronomically high number.

The ones that have stuck around? It seems like they are all in the conversation for coach of the year.

However it's the guy who came in after the season started that is running away with the Jack Adams Award for the top coach. Like his style or not,

Ken Hitchcock has pretty much been a miracle worker since coming into St. Louis just 13 games through the season. What has he done since? Only put the Blues in the mix of about four teams vying for the Presidents' Trophy. As it stands on Thursday, the Blues are the West's top team and tied with the Rangers for the best point total in the league. Not too shabby.

While I see him as a clear front-runner, I'm not sure everybody feels the same. And that's where the Jack Adams conversation gets interesting. The list of coaches who could be considered is about 10 guys long. Paul MacLean will be on everybody's finalist list with what he has down in Ottawa. You can see the rest of my top 5 below. What you don't see is the guys who didn't make the cut and it's a hell of a group. Dan Byslma, Barry Trotz, Mike Babcock, Kevin Dineen and Dave Tippett deserve mentions too.

When looking at the general managers, the architects, I think we have a much more defined group we're looking at. The nature of an award like this is that it's sometimes tough to gauge. If I were to pick the best GM in the game I might go with Peter Chiarelli, Ray Shero or Mike Gillis. They have put together great teams over multiple years. But in just a one-year sense? It cuts it down.

So how do you not start with Dale Tallon in Florida? The Panthers have already eclipsed their point total from last season and they still have 17 games to go. While it's no guarantee yet, they do seem to be on their way to making the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.

And that's after going into the summer with hardly anybody on the roster. He went out and acquired nine players between the draft and the first few days of free agency. That's almost half the team! He continued by making a few trades including shipping David Booth to Vancouver. All the while he has done nothing to disrupt what looks to be a very promising future with a loaded farm system.

So here you go, this week's rankings. Remember, these are just one man's opinion and you can feel free to share yours below, I'm sure you will. As always, the rest of the races are below with a quick update.

Award watch
Jack Adams GM
Ken Hitchcock The Blues are 36-11-7 since he took over. All I have for that is Wow! He has helped make a borderline playoff team to a borderline Stanley Cup team. How can there really be any other choice? Dale Tallon Consider the monumental task it has proven to win in South Florida then consider that Tallon basically built a new team that is winning in one year. He was widely criticized for his team building this summer and while he did overpay for some players, it's tough to argue with the results so far.
Paul MacLean Bonus points for the mustache that makes Wilford Brimley blush. The majority of publications/panels had the Senators finishing dead last in the league this season. Oops. The difference between MacLean and Cory Clouston has been pretty clear and the players have responded, especially Erik Karlsson. David Poile Maybe this one is tough until the offseason when we find out the fates of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, but Poile has done all he could to show the Predators are in it to win it. The re-signing of Pekka Rinne, the acquisitions at the trade deadline all while on a low budget. He's usually in this conversation and he is again.
John Tortorella Yes, the Rangers are good and that's not a great surprise. This good, however? Yes, I think that's surprising. Players have really bought in to what Tortorella is doing. Perhaps the sign of a good coach is how much the team takes on the coach's personality/style. Nobody has done better at that than Torts and Hitchcock. Don Maloney This was another team left for dead before the season began but as I write this, the Coyotes are currently seventh in the West and two points out of the Pacific Division lead. He has had so many obstacles to go through but has continued to bring in good guys and build a winner on a budget.
Peter DeBoer I feel like the Devils first-year coach is under the radar in this conversation, but why should he be? The Devils floundered last season and without changing a whole lot have been significantly better this time around. DeBoer definitely deserves some credit for Ilya Kovalchuk's evolution to a complete player, too. Doug Armstrong Brian Elliott on a two-way contract? Replacing Davis Payne with Hitchcock before anybody else could? Sneaky additions of Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner? That's not a bad year, then add in that he's locked in many of his young core players. Hitchcock deserves a lot of attention for the Blues' success, but so does Armstrong.
Glen Gulutzan This was one hiring in the offseason that made people say "who?" but it has worked well. Despite the departure of Brad Richard and his offensive output, the Stars are in better position this season. In fact, they lead the Pacific Division. For a guy who is two seasons removed from coaching in the ECHL, that ain't bad. Glen Sather The headline grabber was obviously the addition of Richards this summer, but locking in his younger players might have been the better move. Plus, he has presided over a franchise that has stocked the shelves for the future, just look at the Columbus Blue Jackets' wish list for Rick Nash, a trade that didn't happen.

And for a quick look at the rest of the races we'll be checking in on every week.

Hart: Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos, Henrik Lundqvist

Vezina: Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick, Brian Elliott

Norris: Erik Karlsson, Shea Weber, Nicklas Lidstrom

Selke: Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Kesler, David Backes

Calder: Gabriel Landeskog, Adam Henrique, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: January 15, 2012 6:47 pm
Edited on: January 15, 2012 6:51 pm
 

Stars All-Star Benn out after appendectomy

By Brian Stubits

It started off as such a good week for Jamie Benn. The Dallas Stars forward was named an All-Star for the first time in his career, the only member of the Stars elected to go to Ottawa for the game at the end of this month.

Well now he might not make it because his week didn't end as well as it began.

Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reported on Sunday evening that the young star is going to miss 10 days to three weeks after he was sent to the hospital for an appendectomy.

If he is out on the long side of that projection, he'll miss the All-Star Game in Ottawa on Jan. 29. If that's the case, his teammate Loui Eriksson could possibly be called on to replace Benn in the game to represent the Stars.

On a more important level -- you know, where the games matter -- the Stars will be without not only Benn for a little bit but also Mike Ribeiro until after the All-Star Game. Head coach Glen Gulutzan released that information earlier on Sunday.

The Stars have five games until the All-Star break hits including back-to-back games this upcoming week against the Red Wings and Blues.

On the season Benn is the Stars' leading scorer with a total of 42 points in 43 games (13-29=42) and has taken more shots than anybody on the team. His absence won't be easy for Dallas to overcome.

"I'm excited about the challenge,'' Gulutzan said. "I've been dealt worse hands than this before and we came through just fine in those situations. Hopefully we'll be a better team in February for having gone through this.''

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: December 11, 2011 4:34 pm
Edited on: December 11, 2011 4:55 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Just stop it, Brian Elliott

By Brian Stubits

There was concern going into this season for the people in St. Louis regarding the team's goaltending situation. Jaroslav Halak had been subpar in his first year with the Blues, exacerbating the need for a quality backup should things not improve.

So with the choices on the board, who did they sign? Brian Elliott, a castoff by both the Senators and Avalanche. His signing was so underwhelming that there was no guarantee he would even open the season with the Blues. There was an honest-to-goodness competition for the second goalie spot between he and young Blues prospect Ben Bishop.

If you've been paying attention to the first third-plus of the season, then you know how that competition turned out. But it's my duty to pretend that my readers are dumb and don't know a thing (sorry people) so I'll just tell you that Elliott won out.

And he's been winning ever since.

Despite being the "backup" to Halak, Elliott is tied for the league lead in shutouts after Saturday's blanking of the San Jose Sharks. He also leads the league with his jaw-dropping save percentage (.947) and goals against average (1.45).

"I'm satisfied, but I'm not too high on myself," Elliott said after the 1-0 victory on Saturday. "Sometimes you feel it, sometimes you don't."

Truth is, he has had to be that good. The Blues aren't exactly scoring like their division foes in Detroit.

While the coaching change from Davis Payne has worked wonders for the Blues and Halak, it would be unfair to credit Elliott's success to that, too. He was outstanding before the change, he's been just as excellent after it.

It's rather amazing when you think where he came from. As we mentioned, his signing was just a little underwhelming and uninspiring. Why? Consider that last season he played for both the Senators and Avalanche after a mid-season trade, a straight goalie swap for Craig Anderson. For the whole season, Elliott was 15-27-9, including 2-8-1 with the Avs. That .947 save percentage this season? Last season it was .893.

That's quite a turnaround. It's not like he's just become suitable this season, he's been outstanding. You could make the argument that he's been the MVP for the Blues this season. Honestly, I have a hard time making an argument for anybody but Elliott considering Hitchcock isn't a player.

"He seems to always be our best player in the third period," said Kevin Shattenkirk, who scored the only goal in the game. "When we're up by a goal, he's always there to make a huge save."

He had to make 11 saves in the third against the Sharks to preserve the win, obviously with no room for error.

I can't say that Elliott is the reason why the Blues are knocking on the Blackhawks' and Red Wings' doors in the Central. It would obviously neglect a lot of other factors at play. But Elliott could very well be at the top of that list.

Power boost

The Washington Capitals had one of the worst power-play units going into Friday night. The Toronto Maple Leafs had one of the worst penalty-killing units. Advantage: Capitals.

Among a lot of the concerns surround the Capitals, one was the power play's struggles. They had recently just gone through an 0-for-17 streak -- or skid, if you'd prefer. Then the Caps scored all four goals in a 4-2 win over Toronto on Friday with the man up.

More from the weekend
Recaps
Stories

Originally three were credited to Dennis Wideman with an assist on the fourth goal, but it was reviewed at Wideman's request on Saturday and the hat trick was taken away. But for a night at least, Wideman had the first hat trick by a Capitals defenseman in more than a decade (Sergei Gonchar in 2000).

But more immediately, there is hope that the Capitals might have found some hope for the man-up. Of course, the opposite side of the coin is that it came against the Leafs.

There is no doubt that the PK continues to be the Achilles' heel for Toronto. After Friday's awful showing, the Leafs are above only the Blue Jackets in successful PKs at 74.3 percent.

Bachman overdrive

When it was announced that the Dallas Stars would be without Kari Lehtonen for some time due to injury, Stars fans were right to be worried at the process of Andrew Raycroft getting more time. Not a reason for much optimism.

However Richard Bachman is. The rookie got his first start of his NHL career on Saturday and he turned in a great effort, holding the Kings to one goal for the 2-1 Dallas win.

With the win, he likely earned himself a start for the Stars' next game Tuesday at the Rangers.

"He's a competitive guy, and he's pretty clean when it comes to rebounds," said coach Glen Gulutzan, who coached the former Colorado College goalie in the minors last season. "I just told him when he went out there, `It's the same game that you've been playing.' He has that ability, and he's going through the natural progression. He deserves another start, and most likely we'll give him that opportunity and see if he can run with it."

The two points put the Stars back on top of the Pacific Division, which has been surprising this season, and not so much in a good way. The Stars and Coyotes are tied atop the division, but they are each 10 points behind the top team in the West, the Wild. If the division winners weren't awarded the one of the top three seeds, the Stars would be the sixth seed.

On the other bench ...

What's going on with the L.A. Kings? I'll tell you one thing, Terry Murray can't be feeling very comfortable with his job these days.

There was so much hope coming into this season for the Kings. They had been growing every season, they added Mike Richards. It appeared the Kings were on their way to their best season since the days of Gretzky.

They still could be, but they'll have to right the ship in a hurry. Would you believe that there is no team in the NHL worse at scoring goals than Los Angeles? Its 2.21 goals per game ranks at the bottom of the NHL< including below the Ducks in nearby Anaheim. Nothing like low-scoring games to sell hockey in SoCal.

When your cross-town rival makes a move firing its coach and you are being booed off the ice, it's time to wonder if the end is in sight for Murray.

The Wings are good

Just in case you missed that memo.

I was getting ready to start talking about the Winnipeg Jets and how they were extremely quietly inching their way up the Eastern Conference. Then they went to Detroit and were railroaded.

The Red Wings had seven goals from six different scorers -- and none of them was Pavel Datsyuk. It was Detroit's ninth straight win at home where they are 12-2-1 this season. Those are the most wins at home for any team this season.

Some things never change.

One-sided rivalry

What is it about the Battle of Alberta that the Oilers are having so many problems with?

Half of the season's six games have been played between the Oilers and Calgary Flames this season, and the boys from Edmonton have yet to pick up a single point. Against the rest of the NHL, the Oilers are 14-10-3.

The most recent rendition of the provincial rivalry saw Jarome Iginla flash some of his old form with a pair of goals and the Flames took the game 3-0.

Most everybody would agree that the Oilers are likely the better team between the two, but they just can't beat their neighbors. I guess that's why they play the game (well that and winning, right Herm?).

Quote of the weekend

If I were to take a poll of NHL fans who have the Center Ice package which announcer is the biggest homer around? I think it would be a two-horse race between Paul Steigerwald in Pittsburgh and Bruins play-by-play announcer Jack Edwards.

So for this week's QOTW, we're going to take a light-hearted look at a call from Edwards in the Bruins' win over the Blue Jackets.

On the play, Derek Dorsett is driving toward the net to try and beat Tim Thomas, but his shot attempt is stopped and he then goes skidding into the boards. Here is Edwards' call, you might be surprised (like me).

Yes, that is Edwards rather vehemently arguing against a penalty that went on an opposing player. Clearly he was right, in no way, shape or form was that goaltender interference. If anything, it was interference from Tomas in the form of a trip on Dorsett, who was a bit worse for the ware afterward.

Before you jump down my throat, calm down. I have no problems with local announcers catering to the home team, that is their audience. But sometimes it goes overboard and is comical. So when I hear somebody this adamant in another team's defense, it's "ear-catching."

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 20, 2011 5:09 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Wild move to top of the NHL

By Brian Stubits

When I was trying to wrap my head around the aftermath of the weekend in hockey, you must pardon me if I'm a bit staggered. It's not exactly the college football landscape after Saturday, but it's equally as jolting.

It's still only late November, but a tour of the standings is surprisingly fun. And confusing.

Who'd a thunk the NHL's top team at this (or any) point in the season would be the Minnesota Wild? Was there anybody not busy laughing at Dale Tallon that they could have seen the Florida Panthers ahead of the Southeast Division? Did anybody believe Dave Tippett could work his magic again and have the Coyotes in first place of the Pacific? Lastly, who saw the Maple Leafs atop the Northeast Division?

This is the bizarro NHL. Or maybe it's just that this is the NHL with the 2-1-0 point system.

The difference between the best in the NHL (Wild and Chicago Blackhawks) to 25th place (Winnipeg Jets) is only eight points. Four of the six divisions have the fourth place team within four points of the division lead.

One of the divisions that doesn't fit that bill is the Northwest, and that's not because the Vancouver Canucks are running away with it again. Instead, the Wild are, building the biggest division lead in the NHL, holding a five-point lead on the Edmonton Oilers (we told you this was bizarro world).

If we want to take the last 10 games (which we do, it makes this look better) the Wild are the hottest team in hockey alongside the Boston Bruins. Each of them are 8-2-0 in that span after the Wild took the two points from the St. Louis Blues on Saturday with a shootout victory.

It must be the offseason additions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, right?

They haven't hurt matters, to be clear. But I wouldn't go as far as to call them the reason the Wild have the most points in the league. Offensively speaking, the Wild have been well below average. Their 2.20 goals per game ranks 28th out of 30 teams.

Obviously that means it's the defense that's led them to a league-high 12 wins. The Wild are surrendering a very impressive 1.95 goals against average. It's funny how starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom is the "worst" goalie of the tandem of he and Josh Harding as he sports a 1.97 GAA and.935 save percentage.

The most amazing part about this is the Wild are doing it with what most would agree is a no-name group of defensemen. Brent Burns is gone to San Jose. Greg Zanon has been sidelined as have Marek Zidlicky and Marco Scandella. That leaves a cast of characters that I doubt anybody outside of Minnesota or Houston (the Wild's AHL affiliate) had heard of; guys like Justin Falk and Kris Fredheim.

This is all under first-year NHL coach Mike Yeo, by the way. He has come in from Houston and has this team as one of the biggest turnaround stories of the season. I defy anybody, including those fans in Minnesota, to say they saw the Wild starting this well.

Speaking of surprising turnarounds ...

There's another team shocking the NHL under a first-year coach after an awful season a year ago. That would be the Florida Panthers.

Kevin Dineen, certainly with a great pedigree as a player in the NHL, has put his name in the early running for the Jack Adams (next to Yeo) with what he has done in Florida. Or perhaps we should say with what Dale Tallon has done.

The top line for the Panthers is making all the difference right now. For years, the Panthers didn't have much production from the top line. If you had to rank where they stood, it was always in the bottom five of top lines in the NHL, that includes when it featured Stephen Weiss, David Booth and Nathan Horton.

The new top line of Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg showed its prowess on Saturday night against the Penguins in South Florida. They were in on all three Florida goals, including Weiss' power play tally in the final minutes. Each member of that line is on pace for about 80 points or more. None of the three has ever had more than 61 points in a season (Weiss in 2008-09).

The team has some serious gumption. After taking the late lead on the Pens, they withstood a massive barrage, particularly the final 65 seconds when the Penguins pulled goalie Dan Johnson. That's when Jose Theodore -- another surprise -- stood tallest and denied Pittsburgh's numerous scoring chances. Theodore, by the way, has a very respectable 2.46 GAA and .923 save percentage.

We are close to a quarter of the way through the season and it's just so weird to call them the first-place Panthers. But that's exactly what they are.

Getting Bizzy

Another one of the surprising teams (boy, there are a lot of those) is the Phoenix Coyotes -- we'll have more on them this week. They have been winning in seasons past, but I think many believed that Ilya Bryzgalov was a big reason for that and when he left for Philadelphia, most predicted they would falter.

Surprise is a word that would aptly describe Paul Bissonnette's night on Saturday, too. Maybe even surprise doesn't cut it, shocking would fit better.

The Coyotes tough guy who hardly plays but is one of the most popular players in the NHL due to his Twitter fame, had the rare shot to play in Buffalo, near his hometown of Welland, Ontario. It also happened to be the first time his mother had the chance to see him play live in the NHL. And so wouldn't you know it, this happened:

As I said, shocking. That goal brings his total to five goals in the past three seasons with the Coyotes. Maybe equally shocking was Tyler Myers' play to give Bissonnette the shot on the doorstep.

Meanwhile, the Coyotes' 4-2 win moved them into a tie with the Sharks for first place in the Pacific Division.

We want 10!

How crazy are things right now? The Oilers scoring nine goals on the Blackhawks and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins recording five assists goes here. Oh, and Taylor Hall had a hat trick.

The Oilers had eight goals at the mid-way mark of the game, prompting the chants of "We want 10!" from the Edmonton faithful. They came close, real close, in the final minutes, but didn't get it. Instead they had to settle for a 9-2 rout. For shame.

For the Oilers, it's what you would call a rebound win. They entered the game on a four-game skid. The quick start to the season seemed long ago in the rearview mirror. But then in 60 minutes they scored more goals (nine) then they had in the entire span of that losing streak (eight).

What's more, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continues to live up to the billing. Labeled as a play-making center, the Nuge's five-assist night was the a record-setter. No 18-year-old had ever done that before in NHL history. His 19-year-old linemate Hall had his second career hat trick. Whatever they wanted to do, they did.

As for the Blackhawks, their four-game win streak ran into the Alberta armor and went kaput in back-to-back nights to the Flames on Friday and then the Oilers.

"Right now, it seems like every little mistake we make it's in the back of our net and we're making a lot of mistakes," defenseman Duncan Keith said on Saturday. "We all as a team need to focus on committing to playing the right way and the way we know how to play. We have to. The last two games have been embarrassing. The only thing we can do is try and learn from it and move on."

Make it eight

The Boston Bruins can't be touched right now.

With their 6-0 trouncing of the Islanders on Saturday, they have won eight games in a row. With that run, they have finally climbed back into the top eight of the Eastern Conference standings.

The most amazing part of the eight-game run? The Bruins have outscored their opponents 42-14 in that time. That's an average margin of victory of 3.5 goals per game. As I said, they can't be touched right now.

Caps popped

The Capitals are in a tailspin, leading to the annual chatter of Bruce Boudreau's job safety starting up again. That can happen after taking a 7-1 pounding by the similarly struggling Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

When asked after the game about a vote of confidence for Boudreau, GM George McPhee game a "no comment."

But it's still hard to put this on Boudreau in my mind. He's trying everything he can to right the ship. The problem is partly on the shoulders of Alex Ovechkin, who has failed to score a point in any of the past four games. The last time that happened? Go back to February of 2007.

So what's the next step after a team meeting and a practice on a typical off day? It could be the benching of Alexander Semin. The other talented Russian forward on the Caps, Semin has already seen demotions this season. In Sunday's practice, he was dropped all the way to the third line and when Boudreau was asked if Semin might be a healthy scratch on Monday against the Coyotes, Boudreau didn't say one way or the other.

Matters could be coming to a head very soon in D.C. one way or another.

Coming back to Earth

Once sitting atop the NHL in points, the Dallas Stars have gone into a funk, losing five in a row, topped off by a 3-0 loss at Colorado on Friday and a 4-1 defeat in San Jose on Saturday.

That prompted first-year coach Glen Gulutzan to go off about this team, leading to ...

Quote of the weekend

From CSN Bay Area:

“We whine like little babies throughout the game,” Gulutzan said. “I don’t know if there’s been a history of that here or not, but every team that I’ve coached, we’ve always been at the other end of the scale. I think we’re the worst penalty differential in the league, and every team I’ve coached we’ve always been the opposite.

“That’s going to change. We’re going to change that culture here. We’ve got to do it by zipping our mouths one step at a time. The refs are human, and if you whine that much, they’re not going to give you calls. That’s just the bottom line. We’re not getting some calls, and it’s our fault.

“I’ll be glad to go back to Saskatchewan if we don’t get out of this, but at the end of the day we’re going to do it the way we’re going to do it,” he said. “We’re going to be men, we’re going to have character, we’re going to shut our mouths and we’re going to play. If that’s not good enough, then so be it.”

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 12, 2011 2:36 pm
 

Injury watch: Goligoski, Visnovsky out

By: Adam Gretz

A pair of Pacific Division teams suffered a some rather large injuries on Friday night that will certainly test their depth on the blue line. The Dallas Stars will be without Alex Goligoski for a month due to a broken thumb, while Anaheim's Lubomir Visnovsky will be sidelined for a similar length of time due to a busted finger.

Goligoski suffered his injury on Friday night during his return trip to Pittsburgh, against the team that traded him last season in exchange for James Neal and Matt Niskanen, after playing just six minutes during a 3-1 loss. Following the game Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said he expected Goligoski to be out for an extended period of time, while the defenseman's hand was heavily taped.

In 15 games this season Goligoski has scored two goals to go with four assists, and it's a big loss for a Dallas team that allows a significant number of shots on a nightly basis. His 21 minutes per game is the fourth highest average on the team, trailing only Stephane Robidas, Trevor Daley and Sheldon Souray.

Meanwhile, the Ducks announced on Saturday that Visnovsky is expected to miss four weeks after he was struck by a puck late in the third period of their 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Visnovsky had a career year for Anaheim last season, leading all NHL defensemen in scoring with 68 points. So far this season he's scored just one goal to go with three assists in 16 games.

Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle recently told Eric Stephens of the OC Register that he thinks Visnovsky is taking too many chances and needs to let the game come to him. Unfortunately, he's going to have to wait a few weeks before he has a chance to do that.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: November 12, 2011 2:01 pm
Edited on: November 12, 2011 2:10 pm
 

Can Lehtonen continue his hot start?

kl1By: Adam Gretz

The Dallas Stars have been one of the surprise teams in the NHL over the first month of the season, and as my Eye On Hockey partner Brian Stubits pointed out earlier this week, a lot of that success has been the result of some strong play by their top lines.

Goaltender Kari Lehtonen has also been a big factor and is currently playing some of the best hockey of his career. Given the volume of shots he's faced, the Stars have needed him to play at a high level.

Entering their game on Saturday in Detroit, only two teams (Nashville and Florida) are allowing more shots per game (and by a minimal margin) than the Stars. It doesn't help that Dallas has been one of the most penalized teams in the NHL and spend a great deal of time shorthanded, but in 10 of their 15 games this season the Stars have been out-shot by their opponents. Seven times they've been out-shot by at least 10 shots, which is a rather large deficit.

I asked Stars coach Glen Gulutzan following Friday's game, a 3-1 loss in Pittsburgh in which the Stars were out-shot by a 32-20 margin, if there was any concern that maybe the Stars are relying on Lehtonen a bit too much, and if he would like to see those shot totals change more in their favor.

"Well obviously you want to keep your shots down," said Gulutzan. "But it depends where those shots are coming from. If they're just slap shots from the outside we're more than comfortable that he can take those. He takes 32 a night and probably 180 in practice a day, so as long as they're not quality chances we're not going to concern ourselves too much about them."

In other words, in Gulutzan's view it's not the quantity, it's the quality.

There's been a debate taking place in the hockey analytical community as to what impact, if any, "shot quality" has on a team, and whether or not it all evens out throughout the season. While a slap shot from the outside obviously has a lesser chance of resulting in a goal than a breakaway, or a wide open one-timer from between the circles, it still has a greater chance of resulting in a goal than not allowing a shot at all. You run the risk of deflections, a puck hitting your own player and changing direction, or resulting in a second or third chance opportunity on a rebound. Since the 2005-06 season, teams that have finished in the bottom 10 in the league in shots allowed have qualified for the playoffs just 20 times (out of 60 teams).

The question isn't whether or not Lehtonen can physically handle that many shots (regarding Gulutzan's comment on facing 180 shots in practice every day), it's whether or not he can continue to stop them at this rate, and what happens to the Stars if (or when) he starts to play closer to his career norms.

Lehtonen's even strength save percentage currently sits at .952, which is tied for the best mark in the league among goaltenders that have started at least 10 games this season. That's not likely to last, no matter how far out the Stars are allowing shots from. (Just as an example, Tim Thomas led the league in even strength save percentage last season, a year where he was clearly the best goalie in the NHL, with a mark of .947, which was significantly higher than the rest of the league).

For his career, Lehtonen's even strength save percentage comes in at .926, and looks like this on a year-by-year basis: .928, .921, .923, .925, .926, .927. That's pretty consistent, and while it is possible for goaltenders to play a little better under certain coaches and systems, I have to think that eventually he's going to regress back closer to the level he's played at throughout his career. And that could be a problem if the Stars continue to allow over 32 shots every game.

Photo: Getty Images

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Posted on: November 9, 2011 1:06 pm
Edited on: November 10, 2011 2:50 pm
 

Stars shining bright behind light of top lines

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- It's pretty hard to look at the Dallas Stars right now and not be star-struck. After all, they lead the league with 11 wins. No other team has even 10 yet.

You can't help but be impressed with the team's top line.

"I don't know which exact top line," coach Glen Gulutzan said. "I think there are some arguments about who is the No. 1 line at times."

OK, so I guess it's possible you aren't impressed with the top line, but that's only when you can't tell which it is.

"The [Jamie] Benn line there with Ryder on it has just played I think two or three games together after the injury to Steve Ott. Benn and Loui [Eriksson] have had some good chemistry from the get go," Gulutzan said. "Then you've got Ribs [Mike Ribeiro] and [Brendan] Morrow who have had great chemistry as well for years.

"It's good to have some internal competition and that's kind of the battle in that room right there. The young guys vs. the old guard. They're having fun with it. But every night we're getting one of those lines to step up."

Let me be more specific then: I admit openly here to professing my love for the newly formed line of Benn, Eriksson and Michael Ryder. They are each fast. Heck, the whole team is fast. They are very skilled. And they look like they have been playing together for three seasons, not three games.

Just look at the numbers -- they never lie, just sometimes deceive. Since this line came together, Ryder has three goals and four assists. Eriksson has two goals, five assists and a star of the week honor. Not to be outdone, Benn has three goals and five assists. Again, those numbers have been compiled in three games! These three have averaged more than seven points per game combined since they were put together.

They go together like peanut butter, jelly and bread. (Seriously, why is bread never mentioned in this cliché? Do people actually just scoop PB&J in their mouth at the same time?)

"Those two guys have been playing together for a little bit and this is my third game with them and they've been flying," Ryder said after Dallas' impressive 5-2 win over the Capitals on Tuesday, in which he scored twice. "I just jump in there and I'm feeding off them. Guess we’re just going good right now."

Maybe the biggest breakout has been Benn. The 22-year-old is opening eyes everywhere with his play. Combined with Eriksson specifically, they are capable of some beautiful hockey. What has impressed me so much is the unselfishness of the two players. Somehow, they keep finding themselves in 2-on-1 situations and each time they are looking to pass. More often than not it leads to a goal, it seems.

Add Ryder to the mix, and, well let the fun times roll.

"Things are going pretty good right now," Benn said. "Ryder got put on our line right before this road trip and it seems like we're just clicking and we're having fun out there."

Five consecutive wins will help in that department too.

And what of this No. 44 on the blue line? My roster sheet told me that's Sheldon Souray. I could hardly believe it. This is the same guy they were so desperate to get rid of in Edmonton? It is, and he's playing as well as ever. He is averaging nearly a point per game. He seems to have found a home and the Stars are happy to have him.

His four goals are the third most for a defenseman in hockey, trailing only the great Nicklas Lidstrom of Detroit and Florida's Jason Garrison. With his production, the Stars defensemen have picked up the scoring slack they had been leaving behind. Last season it took them until Dec. 29 to score nine goals, a total they have already reached.

For the most part, it's a somewhat no-name group. But it has been solid. As is the case with most every goalie, the defensemen deserve some of the credit for Kari Lehtonen's start.

Lehtonen remains probably the biggest reason why people are still hesitating to jump on the bandwagon. He is coming off a career year and has battled injuries throughout his still young career. He is just 27.

"He keeps us in every game and gives us confidence," Benn said.

Really, GM Joe Nieuwendyk has pieced together a quality team. And the good news? Once the ownership situation gets straightened out and Tom Gagliardi starts paying the bills, there could definitely be a green light to add some salary onto the league's lowest payroll in the form of trades or just finding some quality fits for his team the way he did with Souray and Eric Nystrom.

Nystrom was waived by the Minnesota Wild before the season and eventually made his way to Dallas. In 82 games last season he had four goals. In 14 games this season, he has four goals. Including one spectacularly awesome one on Tuesday night.

Heck, he's even a humanitarian by day. Nystrom took the time to try and make the day for a pair of presumably homeless gentlemen before the game.

"We always have so much food," Nystrom said. "I asked for a to-go box and I took it across the street to the park and gave it to two homeless guys. Gave them the best meal they've had in a long time."

And wouldn't you know it, this might be the best team they've had in Dallas in a long time. Well OK, it hasn't been that long, but you get the point.

"We're trying to gauge ourselves against the league," Gulutzan said. "Coming into Washington and then heading to Pittsburgh and Detroit, we thought this would be a real good measuring stick."

So far, so good. Especially if the Stars keep that, err, those top lines together.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
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