Wednesday night’s Game 7 between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues looked as if it had all the elements of a classic playoff showdown. The two Central Division rivals had split the first six games of the series in exciting fashion, leading to this crucial junction that would determine which team advances to the Western Conference Finals.
Instead of a tightly contested showdown however, the Blues ran away with a decisive 6-1 victory that Dallas seemed to lose control of at the end of the first period. In that period, goaltender Kari Lehtonen allowed four horrendous goals (one of which was called back on a challenge due to a St. Louis offside), leading to his removal from net to begin the second period. Although this kind of ending was incredibly disappointing, it was not all that unexpected. After all, it was no secret that the goaltending in Dallas was a major concern throughout the regular season and heading into the playoffs.
A quick look at the goaltending numbers from this past season indicate just how far behind their peers the goalies in Dallas were. This past regular season, the average league starter (determined by the 30 goalies with most GP) had a .928 Sv% at 5v5 play, whereas Lehtonen posted a .909 figure in his 43 games, and Antti Niemi a .924 in his 48 games.
Those numbers get even worse in the postseason for Dallas. There, Lehtonen recorded a .920 5v5 Sv%, while Niemi struggled even more by keeping only 86.9% of the pucks he faced out the net. Together, they allowed 27 goals at 5v5 play in just 13 games of service.
The above graph does a nice job of indicating exactly where Niemi and Lehtonen stood against their goaltending peers that advanced past the first round of the playoffs. Niemi seems to be in a league of his own near the bottom edges of the graph, while only the streaky Pekka Rinne compares to Lehtonen near the middle. Rinne still has a chance to advance to the Conference Finals if his Predators can pull off an upset against San Jose, but it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the bottom four goalies on this chart were all eliminated by the end of the week.
Still, it’s not as if the Stars would have needed a Matt Murray-esque performance to save them in the postseason. A quick calculation shows that having a league-average starter in net – with the previously stated .928 Sv% – would have decreased the team’s 5v5 goals allowed from 27, to just 20.4. If you lower the standard a little more to include the NHL’s average backup (goalies 31-60 in GP posted a .920 Sv%), the expected goals allowed drops to 22.6.
Cutting even five goals in the team’s series against St. Louis could have been enough to win the four games needed to advance. And doing so would not have even required an incredible level of play from the men in net.
And as if Stars fan needed to feel any worse about the team’s early playoff exit, recent reports indicated that star center Tyler Seguin may have been close to rejoining the team after suffering multiple lower body injuries this season. Having competent goaltending may have helped Dallas advance to the conference finals, where Seguin’s offensive boost could have been enough to propel the team to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Dallas had bad goaltending all season. They had games just like this one. Don't overreact. pic.twitter.com/LfGSZRJQ5B
— Nick Mercadante (@NMercad) May 4, 2016
All told, the fact that having goaltending perform equivalent to an average backup in the NHL may have allowed Dallas to advance in the postseason should be enough to indicate just how poorly this unit performed. And with each goalie locked in for the next two seasons for a combined $10.4 million a year, maybe it is time for the Stars to overreact in net.