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30in30: Stars' questions involve Spezza, Lehtonen

Monday, 08.11.2014 / 10:00 AM / News
By Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer
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30in30: Stars\' questions involve Spezza, Lehtonen
In order for the Dallas Stars to get back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they need answers on how well Jason Spezza will fit in and whether Kari Lehtonen really is an elite goaltender.

The Dallas Stars made a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. General manager Jim Nill then went out and added Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky to the mix, bolstering the offense and setting the Stars up for a chance at a deep playoff run this season.

To do it, they'll have to answer the following five questions:

1. Will Spezza fit in? -- Spezza targeted the Stars for the chance to play behind Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn and for the opportunity, as he said, "to try to win the Stanley Cup." This should be a seamless transition for him as he goes from being the captain of a team in Canada to a second-line center and likely letter-less leader in Texas.

But Spezza has to produce. He has to be the No. 2 center Dallas didn't have last season if the Stars want to have any chance to compete in the Western Conference, where the best teams have excellent center depth and win in part because of how good they are down the middle.

2. Is Kari Lehtonen the right goalie to help the Stars get to the next level? -- The words came out of Nill's mouth without even a hint of hesitation.

"We have an elite goalie in Kari Lehtonen," he said earlier this summer.

So the Stars believe in Lehtonen as they continue to wait for Jack Campbell. Elite, though, might be a strong word when you judge Lehtonen solely on his limited playoff experience.

He's 30 years old and has played in eight playoff games, posting two wins, a 3.88 goals-against average and an .874 save percentage. He had a 3.29 GAA and .885 save percentage in six playoff games last season.

If the Stars do what is expected of them and return to the playoffs, Lehtonen will have a chance to prove himself. He is signed through the 2017-18 season with a $5.9 million salary-cap charge.

3. Can Tyler Seguin do it again? -- Seguin had 84 points in his first season in Dallas and developed chemistry with Benn that should stick. He is playing his natural position and has found a home after a solid if controversial start to his career with the Boston Bruins.

Seguin isn't a one-hit wonder. He is a talented center with equal ability to score and be a playmaker. Benn benefitted from him as much as Seguin benefitted from Benn. They are one of the best 1-2 forward duos in the NHL and should be again.

4. How can Dallas improve its special teams? -- The Stars penalty kill was 21st in the NHL at 81.4 percent and their power play was 23rd at 15.9 percent last season.

Dallas' horrid start on home ice is a big reason why the power-play percentage was so low. The Stars were 6-for-80 (7.5 percent) on the power play at American Airlines Center through their first 21 home games. They went 18-for-78 (23.0 percent) in their last 20 home games.

The power play should be better with Spezza and Hemsky. Spezza, in fact, might bump Cody Eakin off the man advantage, or at the very least reduce his role, giving Eakin a chance to focus on becoming an elite penalty killer. Nill and Ruff like Eakin because of his versatility.

5. Will the defense hold up or do they need an upgrade? -- The plan for Dallas is to go with a top-six of Alex Goligoski, Trevor Daley, Jordie Benn, Brenden Dillon, Sergei Gonchar and one of Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth, Cameron Gaunce and Kevin Connauton.

Nill liked what he saw at the end of last season, when Daley and Goligoski found chemistry as a pair and Dillon, Benn and Nemeth came on and played better. Oleksiak, Nemeth and Gaunce got championship experience in the Texas Stars' run to the Calder Cup.

"I'm very comfortable with it," Ruff said. "I think there is room for growth."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 ANA 47 31 10 6 139 124 68
2 NSH 45 30 10 5 137 104 65
3 STL 46 29 13 4 148 111 62
4 CHI 47 30 15 2 148 108 62
5 WPG 48 26 14 8 135 117 60
6 SJS 48 25 17 6 131 132 56
7 VAN 45 26 16 3 124 114 55
8 CGY 47 25 19 3 136 125 53
9 LAK 47 20 15 12 129 126 52
10 COL 48 20 18 10 125 137 50
11 DAL 46 21 18 7 144 151 49
12 MIN 46 20 20 6 128 137 46
13 ARI 46 16 25 5 105 156 37
14 EDM 47 12 26 9 109 158 33

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
T. Seguin 46 28 24 1 52
J. Benn 46 13 27 -3 40
J. Spezza 46 8 26 -4 34
E. Cole 44 12 11 3 23
A. Goligoski 46 1 22 6 23
A. Roussel 46 11 11 -2 22
T. Daley 43 11 10 -9 21
C. Eakin 43 9 12 6 21
A. Hemsky 43 7 11 -5 18
J. Klingberg 32 6 12 8 18
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
K. Lehtonen 19 10 7 .904 2.98
A. Lindback 2 7 0 .875 3.79
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