Stars goalies: the other Dallas controversy

The Dallas Stars will once again try to make things work with both Kari Lehtonen (left) and Antti Niemi starting regularly. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
The Dallas Stars will once again try to make things work with both Kari Lehtonen (left) and Antti Niemi starting regularly. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

The Dallas Stars are six games into the regular season, and the same debate from one year ago still rages on: Should there be one primary goalie?

In the first six games, Dallas Stars goalies Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen have three starts apiece between the pipes. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, as Lehtonen started 43 last season and Niemi 39. In fact, during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, head coach Lindy Ruff actually defended his position. But is this what’s best for the team right now? Here are a few reasons it may not be.


Most sports are all about rhythm. From hitting streaks, to three-point shooters that can’t miss, to running backs that are untouchable, the common theme is rhythm.

Athletes are often titled as being “superstitious.” However, when many premier athletes field questions about the subject, they’ll point out that it’s more about having a routine. Familiarity is huge in sports.

That’s why some major league baseball hitters have really goofy stances. They found a stance that works for them, and they got into a rhythm with it. It’s like a calming mechanism. This same thing can be said about an NHL defenseman looking behind him and thinking “(insert lame hockey nickname) is in goal. I feel good about this.”

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It’s the sports world’s equivalent to a security blanket. Hockey players are constantly on the go and constantly thinking two to twelve moves ahead. Knowing which goalkeeper is behind them can yield major dividends in that regard.


When you put a team together, you have several different pieces that need to go into the right place. Those pieces should fit together well.

For instance, Lehtonen is good at “cleaning up” round the crease, knocking away blocked shots and rebounds. Where he has a bit more trouble is on the “tracking” of the initial shot coming in. Therefore, the defense built around him should be one that blocks shots effectively before they reach him. When Niemi is in goal though, it’s a different story.

Niemi is great at tracking incoming shots. But he has trouble with the mess that forms around him. The Winnipeg Jets’ first goal against him on Tuesday night was a clear example of that. He had a shutout going and was five seconds away from taking that into the third period.

Instead, he misplays a rebound and the Stars take a 2-1 take a one goal lead into the final frame instead of two. This illustrates a need for defensemen that will steer clear of the lanes and let him track it better, but then pounce on the rebounds to help him out. While similar, they are still two different types of play from the same position.


Like we learned in last season’s playoffs, every decision about starting goalkeepers will be second-guessed. Each loss will become more ammo to those that oppose the goalie split. The pressure could mount and then cause a major rift among the Stars players, sending the entire hockey landscape inside the American Airlines Center and the greater Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex into a major hockey tailspin, eventually causing a rip in the space-time continuum.

We don’t want that. But perhaps that last paragraph was a little bit of hyperbole. What reasons exist that this two goalie system could work?


Consistency’s evil twin is disruption. There’s an old war adage that states, “If we don’t know what we’re doing, the enemy certainly can’t anticipate our future actions.”

One of the best strategic advantages is sports is the ability to keep your opponent guessing. If the Stars are waiting until game time to reveal the starting goalkeeper, that could create some confusion and potential mismatches. Granted, it’s not like football game-planning, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.


The more nuances a team buildup has, the more well-balanced that team becomes. Teams that specialize in more than one area flourish throughout the NHL. Look back at the epic 1998-99 Stars team that won the Cup.

Sure, defense was their backbone. But they were more than that. When they had to be, they’d get into back-and-forth scoring matches with guys like Mike Modano and Brett Hull scoring points galore.

Meanwhile, when they had to trudge through the endless hits and play more of a bruising style, they had Derian Hatcher leading the charge. Then there were guys like Jamie Langenbrunner and Pat Verbeek that could adapt and play either style. Two different goalies can provide that same type of trouble for Stars opponents.

Case study

Finally, the most logical evidence in support of the two goalie system is a look back at last season. Despite what critics had to say about what Ruff was doing with the Stars, they still finished atop the Western Conference last year.

Next: Dallas Stars week two preview

So whether anyone thinks it can be done or not, it has been done and done well. So despite what critics, writers and armchair GMs have to say about it, maybe Coach Ruff knows a bit more than we do about hockey. Perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt.