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Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Stars News & Notes: PK continues to shine

By Mark Stepneski

The penalty kill got off to a terrible start for the Dallas Stars this season, but over the last month it has been superb and has been a key factor in the team’s recent run and climb up the Western Conference standings.

A few statistical notes on the Stars’ penalty kill over the last month:

*The Stars are 55-62 (88.5%) on the penalty kill over the last 18 games.

*And it’s been very good both at home and on the road during that stretch, going 27-31 (87.1%) in 10 road games and 28-31 (90.3%) in eight home games.

*The Stars have allowed power play goals in back-to-back games only once over the last 18 games and have not allowed a PP goal in 11 of the 18 games.

The keys to the PK’s recent success vary, according to defenseman Stephane Robidas.

“There are a lot of different things,” Robidas said. “Guys are willing to sacrifice their bodies. You see a lot of forwards blocking a lot of shots. They block a lot of shots from the middle, which is huge. When those shots get through from the middle that’s when a lot of stuff can happen.”

The Stars wanted to be more aggressive on the penalty kill this season and Robidas said they have been more in sync as units with that pressure as the season has moved along. He also said the PK has been better in some of the of the detail work.

“Just guys winning a faceoff so we can clear the puck right away,” said Robidas. “Even though our clears at times aren’t always great, we’ve been better to make sure it goes all the way down the ice. They have to go back and try to get back in and that takes the rhythm out of the power play. The power play doesn’t like that when you have to go down twice, everybody has to change and everybody gets ticked off. That’s when you start getting in their head a little bit.”

And then there is the most important aspect of the penalty kill and that’s the guy in the net and Robidas said Kari Lehtonen and Andrew Raycroft have been big parts of the turnaround on the Stars PK.

“Our goaltenders have been amazing,” said Robidas. “Even if they get scoring chances, both Raycroft and Lehtonen have been amazing. Usually your best penalty killer is the goalie and that’s been the case.”

The penalty kill gave up 10 goals in the first five games and continued to struggle early in the season. Robidas said it was a doing a lot of good things but a break down here or there late in a kill often hurt the Stars.

Associate coach Willie Desjardins said the team stuck with the plan through the tough times and it has paid off in a turnaround.

“We have a lot of guys that buy in and it starts with your goaltender,” Desjardins said. “When we were struggling we had a meeting about it and I asked Lehts if he had anything to add and he said, ‘Yeah, I’ve got to be better.’ When you have a guy like that stepping up and not pointing the fingers and not saying anything about anybody else and saying I’ve got to be better, he was good. It’s not that there was a problem with him, he just shouldered it and he didn’t need to. That’s what makes it easy.”

Notes

*Defenseman Nicklas Grossman and center Tom Wandell, who both missed Sunday’s game due to illness, did not practice Monday. They are questionable for Tuesday.

*The Stars recalled center Aaron Gagnon from the Texas Stars Monday as a precaution because of some players feeling under the weather.

*Stars coach Marc Crawford said he expected to use both Kari Lehtonen and Andrew Raycroft in goal as the Stars play back-to-back games in Nashville Tuesday and at home against Detroit on Wednesday. He plans to announce which goalie will play which game on Tuesday.

Back-to-backs

This week’s back-to-back games with the Predators and Red Wings will be the Stars seventh set of games on consecutive nights this season. They are 8-4-0 in those games so far with a 5-1-0 record in the first game and a 3-3-0 mark in the second game.