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Kari Lehtonen proving to be a goaltender the Stars can depend on

Tonight, the Stars travel to Anaheim and are looking to win in a place where they haven’t won since the beginning of last season. The Stars have won 3 in a row without Brad Richards (also out tonight) and are in the middle of an extremely important four game road trip that has them facing four divisional rivals. This trip might not make their season—but it certainly could ruin it if they dropped a few and lost ground on the rest of the Western Conference contenders.

Even though they’ve lost ground over the last month, most people around the Stars would tell you they would have been happy just knowing they’d have a shot at the playoffs in March. This was supposed to be a rough season with most of the pundits projecting a 4th or 5th place finish in the Pacific and a top 10 draft pick in June. Sure, they still might finish in 4th or 5th in the Pacific—but that might be good enough for a playoff spot in this crazy season.

The person most responsible for the surprising success: Kari Lehtonen.

When the Stars picked up Lehtonen last season from the Atlanta Thrashers for highly-touted prospect Ivan Vishnevskiy, they were getting a goaltender that had all the talent in the world. They were getting a former #2 overall pick and a guy who was supposed to be the cornerstone of the Thrashers in net for years to come. They also got a guy who had never been able to stay healthy for an entire NHL season. So it seemed pretty simple from the Stars’ perspective—if they believed he could stay healthy then they were getting a player who could make a difference. Well, 60 games into the season and he’s stayed relatively healthy. And he’s been a difference maker.

People around hockey will tell you that as important as save percentage and goals against average can be for a goaltender, it’s when the goaltender makes the saves that is important for the team. Does he keep his team in the game when the opponents come out of the locker room like gangbusters? Does he make that one save when his team has been dominating but has been unable to score? Does he make the saves at the end of a close game? Is he usually his team’s best penalty killer? Find a goaltender that makes those saves on a regular basis and statistics are almost secondary.

The biggest knock on the Stars coming into the season was the gigantic question mark that hung over their defense. They had the underrated Stephane Robidas coming back to anchor the blueline, but just about every other player had uncertainty surrounding them. Would Nicklas Grossman be able to play big time minutes? Would Trevor Daley continue to develop into a stable defenseman instead of an out-of-place forward? Could Mark Fistric limit errors in his own end and become the kind of player who could play minutes on the 2nd power play unit? Could Matt Niskanen resemble someone other than Matt Niskanen?

There was a ton of uncertainty.

Not all of those questions have been fully answered. The positives have been that Grossman proved to be a strong top 4 defenseman (when healthy) and Daley has played his way to a long-term contract extension. The negatives have been Fistric only shows flashes of taking the next step and Niskanen played his way out of town. It’s certainly been a mixed bag that should be helped by the Alex Goligoski acquisition, but things could be better.

The difference this season has been that Kari Lehtonen’s stellar play has quieted most of the complaining. When the players in front of him make a bad read or miss a coverage assignment, Lehtonen has been there to bailout his teammates time and time again. If there were a statistic that measured the unbelievable to regular save ratio, Lehtonen would be putting up Tim Thomasian numbers. Its one thing to make 29 saves; it’s something totally different when a lot of them are of the spectacular variety. Not only has Lehtonen done that for the Stars this season—they’ve expected it.

The Stars will need him to be on the top of his game for the rest of the season if they want to fulfill the promise they showed at the beginning of the season. It starts tonight against the Ducks and after an expected break against San Jose, should continue in Los Angeles on Monday night.

Remember, as Kari Lehtonen goes, so go the Stars. Luckily for fans in Dallas, he’s getting hot at just the right time.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL’s concussion spotters are off to a rough start

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–The NHL now has concussion spotters watching every game from the league’s headquarters in New York. These spotters have the power to remove players from games if they think they’re concussed. In theory, it seems to be a good idea, but the spotters have had a tough time so far. (Associated Press)

–Sean McIndoe takes a look at five players that have been confusing to follow this season. Some are confusing because they’ve overachieved and others are confusing because they’ve flopped so far in 2016-17. (The Hockey News)

–The Penguins’ third pairing of Ian Cole and Justin Schultz have been solid this season because they’ve kept things simple. The duo wants more ice time, but they don’t want to stray away from what’s made them successful. “If we’re given more responsibility, we’re certainly very excited for that and are ready to run with that opportunity. I don’t think we should try to change anything,” said Cole. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

–The Boston Bruins were down 3-0 to the Washington Capitals last night, but they managed to fight back and force overtime. Unfortunately for the Bruins, Caps center Nicklas Backstrom scored the game-winning goal in the extra frame. You can watch the highlights of the game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews donated $1 million to a community center in his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba. “From my earliest days playing hockey, Dakota Community Centre has always played a pivotal role in my upbringing and my career”, Toews said. (The Score)

–Nashville Predators teammates Mike Ribeiro and P.K. Subban go head-to-head in a game of pickup basketball. The matchup was pretty one-sided. Let’s just say they should both stick to hockey.

–Last Week, the ‘Hawks were forced to sign an emergency goalie after Corey Crawford was unable to play. They settled on Eric Semborski, who is an employee at the Flyers’ practice facility. Now, Topps decided to create a hockey card of Semborski.

Condon keeps standing on his head for Sens, this time sinking Sharks

SAN JOSE, CA - DECEMBER 07:  Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators makes a save on a shot taken by Mikkel Boedker #89 of the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on December 7, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Chris Kelly scored with 1:06 remaining and Jean-Gabriel Pageau added an empty-net goal, giving the Ottawa Senators a 4-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night.

Mark Stone and Erik Karlsson also scored for the Senators, who beat the Sharks for a fifth straight time. They’ve won three straight in San Jose for the first time ever.

Logan Couture and Brent Burns scored for the Sharks, who had a three-game winning streak snapped.

Mike Condon stopped 35 of 37 shots for the Sens. The Sharks outshot Ottawa 18-4 in the third period, and Martin Jones allowed three goals on 16 shots overall.

The Senators struck quickly, recording a power-play goal less than four minutes into the contest. Mike Hoffman tossed the puck toward the net and it bounced off Burns’ skate. Burns lost sight of it and Stone picked it up, firing past everybody into the net.

Hoffman has a point in six straight games and in eight of nine since missing a pair of contests with an injury.

Karlsson made it 2-0 with a goal about four minutes later. Sharks defender Brendan Dillon tried clearing it from in front of the net, but Karlsson was right there to fire it to the high glove side.

Couture got the Sharks on the board with a power-play goal midway through the second period. The Senators cleared the puck two straight possessions before Joe Pavelski rushed to the net and then slipped the puck to an open Couture, who has six goals in his past eight games, about 10 feet away for the score.

Burns tied the score 6:30 into the third period, methodically working the puck to set up a shot that squeezed past Condon to the glove side.

NOTES: Senators D Marc Methot missed his fourth straight contest with a lower body injury. … Stone has eight points in his last six games. … Karlsson has nine points in his last five games. … The Sharks recalled F Kevin LeBlanc and D Mirco Mueller. Mueller was a healthy scratch. … Sharks D Paul Martin recorded his 300th NHL point with an assist on Burns’ goal.

UP NEXT:

Senators: Continue a four-game trip at the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.

Sharks: Travel to Anaheim for a game Friday night and then return home to face Carolina on Saturday night.

‘If he was in Toronto, there’d be no Carey Price, media-wise’ – Boudreau on Dubnyk

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 07:  Devan Dubnyk #40 of the Minnesota Wild celbrates a win over the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on April 7, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Wild defeated the Blackhawks 2-1.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Minnesota Wild aren’t exactly dominating the NHL, so it might be easy to ignore just how outstanding Devan Dubnyk has been to start the 2016-17 season.

We’re talking “Carey Price and Tuukka Rask territory.”

While his 11-6-3 record won’t blow anyone’s mind, his 1.65 GAA and .946 save percentage are jaw-dropping. With Dubnyk doing special things, Bruce Boudreau felt the need to say weird things* after Dubnyk helped the Wild beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 on Wednesday.

“If he was in Toronto, there would be no Carey Price … I’m just saying media-wise,” Boudreau said after the game, as you can see in this video:

That’s some Haagen-Daz level praise from Boudreau.

Even if Dubnyk was in a bigger market, there’d probably be room in our hockey thoughts for Dubnyk and the consensus best goalie in the world, but Boudreau’s larger point is taken: Dubnyk has been right there with the best early on this season.

And, let’s be honest, we shouldn’t be too hard on Boudreau or he might stop saying … well, things like this:

Never change, Bruce.

* – Unlike his comments about “Die Hard,” which were amusingly on-point.

Trademark headaches for the Vegas Golden Knights?

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 22:  The team name and logo for the Vegas Golden Knights are displayed on T-Mobile Arena's video mesh wall after the Vegas Golden Knights was announced as the name for the Las Vegas NHL franchise at T-Mobile Arena on November 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The team will begin play in the 2017-18 season.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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It’s difficult to tell just how big of a headache this might be, but SBNation‘s Mary Clarke uncovered quite the eyebrow-raiser on Wednesday: the Vegas Golden Knights’ trademark request was rejected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

You can read the 164-page document here (if you’re weird), but the gist is that “registration of the applied-for mark is refused because of a likelihood of confusion with the mark” used by the College of Saint Rose Golden Knights.

Clarke summarized it simply enough:

Essentially, the logos and stylizations are too similar. It’s baffling the NHL and Vegas didn’t go through the trademark process before announcing the name and logo last month. Yet, all is not lost. Later down, the document states the Black Knight Sports and Entertainment group “may respond to the refusal by submitting evidence and arguments in support of registration.”

Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt received this release from the Vegas Golden Knights, which indicated that they will respond to the refusal (and also noted how teams like the Boston Bruins and UCLA Bruins share names without issues).

There seem to be some mixed messages, at least if you note owner Bill Foley’s response to NBC Las Vegas’ Amber Dixon:

Hmm.

This could merely be a messy issue that really doesn’t cause anything to go off track, even if people are certainly having some fun at the league and team’s expense.

The logo and other marks seem to be the biggest sticking point, so compare the two for yourself:

Again, this could all be a mild disruption, but it’s an odd situation. And, to some, a great laugh.

Related: There also might be some issues involving the Army.