Bill Meltzer: Star Gazing: No Lead Is Safe, No Deficit Too Much

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STAR GAZING: OCTOBER 20

The last two games the Dallas Stars have played have suggested that this is the type of club for whom no lead is safe and no deficit is too much to overcome. The Stars are loaded with offensive firepower and team speed but the club is still a bit thin defensively.

With Kari Lehtonen having a mediocre outing against the Flyers on Saturday — after playing very well to hold the Stars in Thursday’s game in Pittsburgh before Dallas waged its dramatic late-game comeback victory — some of the team’s defensive flaws got exposed.

The only way to work around having a blueline that lacks a true number one defenseman is through a strong teamwide commitment to defense. The Stars rely on a blueline-by-committee approach — the team will probably have to do so for the foreseeable future as they try to develop some of their young defensemen — and need their goaltender and two-way commitment from the forwards.

Stars head coach Lindy Ruff was understandably peeved with what he saw on Saturday night from a defensive standpoint, calling it “garbage hockey.” The team got severely outplayed in the third period while defending a two-goal lead. A hard-working goal by Jason Spezza temporarily restored a one-goal lead after the Flyers came back to tie the game at 4-4 but Dallas was once again unable to nail down the win.

Of course, the flip side of the coin of Saturday’s third period was the team’s three-goal outburst in the second period (after trailing 2-1 at the first intermission) and the way the Stars pulled out Thursday’s game in Pittsburgh. This Stars team is never out of a game because of all its offensive weaponry but they can’t over-rely on their goal scoring ability and Lehtonen’s ability to steal games. Two-way play is what makes a team into a true contender.

As for Lehtonen, the big Finn did not have one of his better nights against Philly. For whatever reason, some players just seem to struggle against certain teams. Lehtonen has never beaten the Flyers in his career in the Atlanta and Dallas organizations. Last season, Ruff tabbed Dan Ellis and Tim Thomas to start the two games the Stars played against the Flyers.

Lehtonen will bounce back, but he was committing himself too early and struggling with rebound control on Saturday (especially when the Flyers were putting pucks at his feet). On the sequence that led to Trevor Daley’s overtime penalty, Lehtonen was victimized by the very lively new boards that have been installed at the American Airlines Center. The puck caromed right past him and Daley had to hook Philadelphia’s R.J. Umberger to prevent an easy tap-in to end the game. Ultimately, Flyers captain Claude Giroux ended the game on a power play goal from the left side that looked like a stoppable shot.

As a veteran, Lehtonen knows how handle nights like these. Typically, he bounces back with a strong outing the next game. However, the team in front of him needs to clean things up defensively. They cannot play the way they did defensively in stretches of the Nashville, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia games and fairly expect Lehtonen (or Anders Lindbäck) to work miracles.

Ruff is not a passive coach. There is no doubt that there will be a heavy emphasis on defensive coverages, right-side breakout and defending zone entries in the days to come. The Stars return to action tomorrow night when they host the Vancouver Canucks. Game time is 7:30 p.m. CDT. QUICK HITS: OCTOBER 20

* With Patrik Nemeth lost to injury on the first shift of Saturday’s game, Ruff double-shifted Brenden Dillon throughout the game. Dillon generally played a solid and physical game while racking up over 30 minutes of ice time.

* Nemeth sustained a nasty laceration on his right wrist/forearm from a cut accidentally inflicted by Umberger’s skate. The Stars announced today that Nemeth will miss the remainder of the regular season. In his absence, Jamie Oleksiak (who has only dressed in one game to date) is the top candidate to get into the lineup. The club has also recalled mobile Finnish defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka from the AHL’s Texas Stars.

* Saturday night’s game was a sellout, drawing an announced crowd of 18,532 to the American Airlines Center. There were a significant number of Flyers sweaters in the crowd mixed in among the green-clad Stars partisans. Of course, the Dallas fans kept up the tradition of hollering “who cares?!” whenever the announcement of an opposition goal was made on the public address.

* It is easy to get spoiled covering the Stars and the Flyers. The two teams have the most accommodating and helpful PR/media staffs in the NHL, and the press box experience at the American Airlines Center is second to none. The staff truly attends to your every need and everyone greets you by name with a smile on their faces. Having dealt with quite a few NHL teams while freelancing at NHL.com and the former Versus.com as well as my work for HockeyBuzz, I can honestly tell you that Ben Fromstein, Greg Ramirez and everyone else in Dallas and the trio of Zack Hill, Brian Smith and Joe Siville in Philly are a pleasure to deal with as a member of the media.

* It was also a pleasure talking to Dallas Stars Inside Edge writer Mark Stepneski in the pressbox before Saturday’s game. As someone who covers the Stars from afar — I base myself in the Philadelphia area during hockey season — the information that Mark and Mike Heika put out on the team are invaluable to me in gathering materials for my Stars blogs here at HockeyBuzz. In the meantime, Mike and I are former colleagues at Versus.com before the site was folded into NBC Sports’ website and the hockey coverage was replaced with Pro Hockey Talk. I only got to say a quick hello to Mike on Saturday, but he’s someone else whose work I admire.

* Accompanied by my wife and 19-month-old daughter, I stayed at the Embassy Suites a few miles from the American Airlines Center. My wife (who was under the weather) was a trooper, staying back at the hotel with our daughter while I covered the game. I wanted her to have access to our car in case of emergency, so I left the car at the hotel and took the hotel shuttle to the AAC.

Standing in the lobby as I waited for the shuttle, I met a group of Flyers fans who were going to the game. We shared the ride to the arena. There were also a couple people in the lobby clad in Stars sweaters (although they did not take the shuttle). Regardless of team loyalties, it was nice to see and talk with with some people who enjoy hockey. I don’t run into many of them when I’m at my home in east Texas!

This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.