No easy solution to Stars’ goaltending mess

AP
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The Dallas Stars had the Vancouver Canucks on the ropes.

It should’ve been an easy knockout.

But last night at Rogers Arena, the Canucks and their peashooter offense finally found a goalie they could light up. Kari Lehtonen allowed five goals on 30 shots, and the Stars lost, 5-4, in overtime.

Even more maddening for the Stars, they entered the third period with a 3-1 lead.

And then Loui Eriksson got one through Lehtonen’s five-hole:

And then Brandon Sutter scored on the power play:

The Stars regained the lead a few minutes later, only for rookie Troy Stecher to pot his first NHL goal in the final two minutes of regulation:

Markus Granlund then added the winner in sudden death:

To be sure, all four of the above goals featured defensive miscues by the Stars. There was a turnover just prior to the Eriksson goal, Sutter was given too much time in the slot before his, Jamie Benn let Stecher beat him at the point, and Granlund had a clear shot off a faceoff in OT.

But let’s face it, Lehtonen has to make a save or two. The Stecher goal was the real killer. Stop that and the Stars probably win. It should’ve been stopped.

Now, if last night was just a one-off, no big deal. But it wasn’t. Far from it. We all know the story here. It’s been going on for a while.

Related: Lindy Ruff calls out his goalies

So far this season, Lehtonen and Antti Niemi have save percentages of .891 and .892, respectively. And with cap hits of $5.9 million and $4.5 million through next season, respectively, they’re practically untradeable.

It remains to be seen what, if anything, GM Jim Nill can do. There’s no real alternative in the AHL, so for now, the Stars (6-6-4) may be forced to maintain survival mode.

But here’s the reality — there’s no guarantee that this team will make the playoffs, especially if the goaltending doesn’t improve. The banged-up Stars (6-6-4) are barely in a wild-card spot right now, and the trade deadline is a ways away. Which is to say, the Lightning have no urgency to move Ben Bishop until March 1, if they move him at all. To get Bishop now would take a very significant offer from Nill.

It’s a tough situation, one that may not have a solution. Nill has done a great job overall in Dallas, but his great work doesn’t include the goaltending.