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2016 Playoff Preview: Devan Dubnyk vs. Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi

2016 Playoff Preview: Devan Dubnyk vs. Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi

The story in this Dallas Stars – Minnesota Wild series may be less about offense versus defense than about the goaltending. For much of the year the Stars won by outscoring their goaltending, while the Wild have long been one of the stingiest teams in the league. This year they gave up the fewest goals in the division. Three of the five regular season meetings between these two clubs went to overtime, and if the Dallas tandem falters or Dubnyk is on, this could be a closer than anticipated matchup.

Devan Dubnyk

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In 2013-14 after an abysmal year with the Edmonton Oilers and the Nashville Predators, it looked like Devan Dubnyk was bound for the AHL. In 2014-15 he rebuilt his game in Arizona and Minnesota and earned a Masterton Award and a Vezina nomination. This year Dubnyk has put together an above average campaign that was enough for Minnesota to squeak into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the final wildcard spot, earning them a date with Dallas’s offense.

Dubnyk is a big guy who last season began to rein in his depth, which allows him to maintain his patience on his skates. At his best he tracks down on pucks, staying contained and efficient. He stops initial shots and layers the coverage above his pads, blocking off the net horizontally as well as vertically. When tracking well he follows up by moving into second shots with minimal holes.

When he’s off he’s vulnerable to getting beat over the pads as he defaults to a more passive, locked in blocking position with his glove and blocker. Bigger guys have bigger holes, and when forced to move under pressure Dubnyk’s tendency to reach with his pads on second chances opens him up, both in the five hole and above his pads.

Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi

The Stars have run with Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi as a tandem for the season, giving Lehtonen 39 starts to Niemi’s 43. Every indication is that they plan to continue this through the playoffs. Although there has been no official word, speculation is that Kari Lehtonen will start Game 1 for the Dallas Stars.


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Both Lehtonen and Niemi have backed off on their initial depth this season, but Lehtonen still plays more aggressively than Niemi. Unfortunately, he has also been prone to chasing pucks out away from the net, making his recoveries difficult even when his initial depth is fine. This is in addition to the times when he never gets set at all, something that shows up in how often he is reaching on shots, sometimes while still moving. To be at his best, he’ll need to re-establish his timing and backwards flow, allowing himself the time to get set while maintaining mobility.


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When he’s on, Niemi will stay patient on his skates rather than dropping early and sliding into shots. When he’s off, extra movement will creep in and he will drop to the butterfly and slide into shots, opening holes and delaying reactions if the play moves in another direction. In addition he has a tendency to straighten up to see above screens rather than looking around or through them. It creates a delay in getting to the ice when the shot is release, in essence catching him in transition.

About The Author

Clare Austin

Clare Austin is a reluctant "stats nerd" living in Nashville, where she has never worn a cowboy hat or boots.

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