We asked Defending Big D some questions. Here are their answers.
Q: When Niemi first showed up in SJ the team had to learn how to deal with his rebound control (or lack thereof), How has the team adjusted to his style? How much time do you expect Niemi to get over the year?
A: Both Lehtonen and Niemi have played well. Niemi has been the stronger of the goalies so far this season, but it hasn't been by a lot. The rebound control has not been as much of an issue as what I saw of him in San Jose. In fact, it appears to be quite the opposite. He has made some saves this year where it felt like he should have given up a rebound, and didn't. Blame it on sample size or new goalie whisperer Jeff Reese, but it has not been an issue. The other side of that coin is that Lehtonen has struggled himself with controlling the puck at times so the defense appears to be used to dealing with it. Niemi has been good for the Stars so far. The way things look at this point, I would guess starts go 60/40 to Niemi in his best case scenario and 50/50 in his worst case. I had my doubts about 1A and 1B, but it seems the team is really giving it a shot.
Q: There were a lot of moving pieces this offseason with the Stars. Who of the new additions has shown instant chemistry with his line mates?
A: Johnny Oduya and Jason Demers have formed the defensive pairing for Dallas, and they have looked great doing it. They are shouldering an enormous load in the defensive zone starts. During the preseason, Patrick Sharp ad Tyler Seguin looked like they were going to combine for a million goals this season. The top line has been as advertised, but the "chemistry" between Seguin and Sharp has been sporadic.
Q: John Klingberg really burst on to the scene last season, immediately establishing himself as one of the team's top defenseman. Whose game would you compare him to? Do you expect any sophomore slump?
A: John Klingberg's game reminds me a lot of Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. That is pretty high praise, and he obviously needs to maintain his play for a few more years to be mentioned with those guys. But the kid is the real deal. I expect a tempered sophomore slump (read: not Nathan MacKinnon). Klingberg's game seems to come naturally to him. It will be interesting to see his production over 82 games, but so far he looks like an animal.
Q: Dallas was bottom 10 in goals allowed last season. A lot of that surely had to do with goaltending, but do you feel better about the Stars defense today than you did a year ago?
A: Much better. Johnny Oduya was a huge offseason addition for the team. He brings a serenity to the back line. Last year, Jordie Benn and Jason Demers were the defensive mules, with Alex Goligoski and John Klingberg being the puck-moving pair. But unlike last year, the Stars have a third pair. Jordie Benn has moved down to play with Jyrki Jokipakka and they have looked great together. Oduya's arrival made the team's second and third pairings better. The Stars have an embarrassment of riches in the prospect pipeline, so I think the defense will continue to improve. It is amazing what swapping Trevor Daley for a defensively stable Oduya did for the entire lineup.
Q: The Central appears to be the toughest division in the NHL right now — what are your expectations for where the Stars should/will end up?
A: I picked the Stars to finish third in the Central. St. Louis and Minnesota look good in the early going, so I would expect those teams to build some separation over the long term of the season. Past those two, I don't see a team that can keep up with Dallas. The Stars look to be that good. The roster turnover appears to be a clean sweep for general manager Jim Nill. Jamie Benn is a savage, they can roll 4 lines, the defensive issues have improved, the goaltending has improved. It would not surprise me to see the Stars surprise some people in April-May.