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Monday, March 12, 2012
Penalty kill clicking for Stars

By Mark Stepneski

Keeping pucks out of their net has been a key factor in the Dallas Stars’ current run, and a big help in that department has been the team’s penalty kill.  The Stars have allowed just one opposition power play goal during the team’s 9-0-1 run that has pushed them to the top of the Pacific Division and the third seed in the Western Conference.

The Stars have killed 30 of 31 (96.8%) opposition power plays during those ten games, helping them climb from 18th in the league in penalty killing three weeks ago (81.6 percent) to 10th in the NHL (83.2 percent) after going 4-4 in Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Anaheim.

“That’s just commitment from those guys,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “Vernon Fiddler, Radek Dvorak, Adam Burish, Eric Nystrom and Mike Ribeiro’s killing a lot. Steve Ott and Loui Eriksson have been good. All our D have chipped in.

“Guys have just dug in. (Assistant coach) Paul Jerrard has kind of taken over in the second half and done a heck of a job with the PK. … The players have dug in, they block shots and the goaltending has been spectacular.”

During those 31 power plays over the last 10 games, goalies Kari Lehtonen and Richard Bachman have combined to stop 50 of 51 shots for a shorthanded save percentage of .980. Lehtonen has stopped 45 of 46 shorthanded shots over his eight starts during the run.

“We’re trying to keep a little more pressure early on. I think earlier in the season they were coming into our zone too easy.  I think we’ve been able to clear the pucks much better,” Lehtonen said. “Just giving more pressure I think. That just takes their time away, and they are not able to set up and make nice plays. That makes it more simple for me, too.”

And that one power play goal the Stars have allowed over the last ten games was on a five-on-three situation against Minnesota.

They’ve gone ten straight games without allowing a five-on-four power play goal. The last five-on-four power play goal they’ve allowed was in the February 19 game against Nashville, which happens to be the last time they lost in regulation.

“I think we're pretty robotic now. We're all doing the same thing,” Ott said of the team’s work on the penalty kill. “We have a strong focus on faceoffs in our own end to know what we’re doing.  Our preparation I think is a lot better now. It just seems like everybody's continuing to roll. We know how long to stay out there. We know how to do the right plays. I think all those things are adding up to an easier penalty kill.”