Every player on every team will tell you that every game during the season is important. But for the Dallas Stars, the next few weeks will be especially important as they try to keep their head above water without their emerging netminder, Kari Lehtonen.
No pressure there Mr. Raycroft.
There was a positive development for Stars fans as Lehtonen was back on the ice this morning for the first time since leaving in the first period of a game against the Coyotes two weeks ago. Since then he’s missed four games and has been receiving treatment on his strained groin from team trainers. Today, he hit the ice.
Head coach Glen Gulutzan shared today with Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News that it’ll still be awhile before we see Lehtonen return to game action. “…Lehts skated today for the first time, so we don’t think we’ll have Lehts before Christmas,” Gulutzan told Heika. “But after Christmas he should be a game player for us. We’ve got these next seven games before the Christmas break, so we’re focused on those.”
Gulutzan understands that the schedule over the next two weeks will be much tougher than it’s been since Lehtonen went down with his injury. After tonight’s game in Los Angeles, the Stars head to the East Coast for the New York area trifecta, before heading home for a three-game homestand. No team in the tight Western Conference can afford a long losing streak—the Stars are no different.
Dallas has been able to tread water thus far without Lehtonen as they’ve gone 2-2 without their netminder. Anyone that follows the Stars understands that Lehtonen has been the backbone of the team over the last two seasons. It’s not just the number of saves he’s been able to make over the last two seasons; it’s the quality of the saves and their timeliness.
They’ll need Raycroft to do his best Kari impersonation this December if they want to compete for a playoff spot in April.
The Flyers have made a habit of huge comebacks lately. Last Friday, the Flyers came back from a three-goal deficit to beat the Anaheim Ducks. Then last night, the Flyers roared back from an early three-goal hole to beat the Buffalo Sabres on Versus.
Tonight? Tonight they tried to flip the script.
The Flyers jumped all over the Penguins and controlled the first two periods of the game. But in the third frame, the Pens came with a late charged and almost gave the Flyers a taste of their own medicine. Instead, they came up short and the Flyers escaped with the 3-2 victory to vault them into the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
The win was particularly big for a couple of former Penguins. Max Talbot joined the Flyers after parts of six seasons in Pittsburgh; Jaromir Jagr signed with Philadelphia after making his mark on the league with the Penguins a decade ago. Both know that they aren’t the most popular men in the Steel City these days.
Jagr was able to joke about missing an empty net after the game. “Their fans were happy that I didn’t score and I’m happy we won the game. I just make everybody happy. You have to find a way to make everybody happy. That’s what I did.”
The high-scoring Flyers have been able to get it done this season with the best offensive in the league, but Thursday night featured some great team defense for the first half of the game. It was the defense that served as the catalyst for the win against the Pens. They’ve won four straight games as they go into their rematch against the Tampa Bay Lightning this weekend. You may remember what happened the last time the two teams played.
For the Penguins, they showed in the final period that they can generate plenty of pressure without their sidelined captain. Regardless, they will need a more complete effort on Saturday against the Islanders before they (presumably) get Crosby back for Tuesday’s game against the Red Wings.
Even though the Pens got off to a hot start this season, the better keep it up. The Flyers aren’t showing any signs of slowing down.
With the World Junior Championships coming up later this month and each country releasing the rosters for their training camps, a few organizations have had to make some tough decisions with their young NHL players. On Thursday night, the Anaheim Ducks announced that the team will loan rookie forward Devante Smith-Pelly to Hockey Canada for the upcoming camp and tournament. Likewise, it’s been reported that the Tampa Bay Lightning will release forward Brett Connolly to Hockey Canada as well.
Eric Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune reports that Connolly will head to Calgary for Team Canada’s camp on Saturday. The decision to release the 19-year-old rookie was made before Martin St. Louis went down with his injury; the team didn’t change their mind when they learned St. Louis would miss time. Connolly was part of Canada’s silver medal winning team at least year’s WJC and he’ll look to improve on that if he makes this year’s team.
Lightning head coach Guy Boucher talked about the opportunity for Connolly: “…it’s going to be a great moment for him to live that pressure and be one of the top guys. And that’s an incredible experience for him for the future because he’s going to be able to take more pressure and the toughest moments. That’s what you get out of (playing for) Team Canada.”
On the other coast, the Ducks announced 19-year-old Devante Smith-Pelly will get his first opportunity to make Team Canada at the WJC. He was one of the last cuts last season, but took his game to another level in the OHL playoffs last season and made the Ducks’ roster out of training camp.
“This is a great opportunity for Devante to continue his development,” said Executive Vice President/General Manager Bob Murray. “Being a candidate for Team Canada in such a prestigious tournament is a great honor. He’s improving each day as an NHL player and we hope he can continue his progress after playing for his country. We fully expect him to play a prominent role in the upcoming tournament for Canada.”
On the other hand, Florida Panthers look like they’ll have different plans for defenseman Erik Gudbranson. The third-overall pick in the 2010 draft has been playing win the surprising Panthers all season and will probably not be released for the few weeks of the tournament. Instead, he’ll stay up at the NHL level and help the Florida Panthers compete for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
It’s always a tough decision for general managers when they weigh the experience a prospect will gain when at the WJC against the injury risk while playing for another team. Each team is in a different situation—each player is also in a different situation for that matter.
On Thursday, both the Lightning and the Ducks decided it would be most beneficial for their promising young players to get a taste of the pressure of the WJC.