The Dallas Stars
Whoever picked Dallas to win the Central division must feel pretty silly right now. *Hangs head in shame.*
Between the Stars, Wild, Jets and Predators, this division is just full of curveballs and defied expectations, both good and bad. At least the Stars are not the train wreck that Minnesota is right now. Even though Dallas has lost its last two games, they are still 7-2-1 in their last 10, and are very slowly gaining ground in the standings. It may not be enough when all the smoke clears, though, thanks to a seven-game losing streak early in the season. They're five points behind Winnipeg and Los Angeles for the final Wild Card spot, but they have a game in hand. Making the playoffs isn't impossible for them, it will just be difficult.
At least Stars fans get to watch Tyler Seguin play every night. Seguin is one point behind Philadelphia's Jacob Voracek for the league lead in points, and only four goals (!) away from 30 already. That is tops in the league. He's a must watch player when he's on the ice, and should get some deserved consideration for the Hart Trophy. There's a reason why Dallas is the fourth best team in goals per game, though Jamie Benn is a big factor in that as well.
They just can't keep the puck out of the back of the net, which falls on both the defense and the goaltending. The Stars allow the 25th most 5v5 shots against per 60 minutes played, which won't help when the team also has the 25th ranked total 5v5 save percentage.
Kari Lehtonen has been their workhorse, but is putting up his worst season since 2005-2006 with the Atlanta Thrashers. He had only played four games prior. But the underachievement of the team isn't squarely on Lehtonen. As we mentioned, the defense isn't helping much, but he also isn't getting much relief from his backups. In fact, Brandon Worley at DBD recently wrote an article that mirrored our feelings about Nashville's backup goaltending.
Here's the thing though -- while Lindback wasn't the full reason for the loss, he could have been the reason for a stolen win. The saying "they just needed that one save and it would have been a different game" could be relevant here, as well; while it's tough to fault goalies on several 2-on-1 goals in a game, NHL goaltenders are also expected to be able to stop at least some of those -- steal a save for your defense.
Lindback has yet to have the sort of performance a team will need from time to time, when a backup goaltender comes in and can go toe-to-toe with the starter on the other side. Sure, it's impossible to expect starter-level play from a backup on every opportunity, but the truth is the Stars backups (Jussi Rynnas included) have performed the worst of any backs up in the NHL this season -- but still have only played in nine games so far.
Luckily for the Predators, they've been bailed out by their starting goaltender, so the damage has been minimized. The same has not been true for the Stars.
Expect Lehtonen to get the start tonight.
The Nashville Predators
Tuesday's game was not the prettiest game Nashville has ever played, but they got the result that mattered and... um. Uh...
I'm... I'm sorry, I'm still distracted by this AMAZING SAVE THAT PEKKA RINNE MADE MY GOODNESS. I don't care if you've seen it already, here it is again.
I may have skipped meals and showers to continuously watch this.
The Predators have to come out focused and reenergized against a beatable, but still very competitive Stars team. Nashville has been finding its groove offensively lately, and are getting contributions from all over the lineup. That includes the defensemen.
If Nashville can play to its strengths, exploit Dallas' defense and pump tons of shots on goal, they should be able to win their 27th game of the year. If they take their foot off the gas for even a second, regardless of the score, Seguin, Benn, Spezza, Trevor Daley or any other number of players could make them wish they hadn't.
Reasons to Watch
- Imma just assume that if you're this far into the season and reading this preview, you know damn well the reason to watch this team.
- The trick is going to be getting your friends, roommates, neighbors, rivals, boss, teachers, coworkers, milkman, mailman, snowman, wife, husband, kids, dogs, cats, (living together!), figurines and even family pictures to start watching this team.
- Your homework is to get one new person to watch a Predators game with you this week.
- Pssst, tell them about OTF, too! :)