Penalty kill off to good start for Stars

FRISCO -- It’s early, but the Stars’ penalty kill has been one of the bright spots so far this season. That’s a different story from early last season.

Through the first five games the Stars are 25-28 on the penalty kill. They rank in the top ten in the league at 89.3 percent. Through the first five games last season they were 15-25 and ranked 30th at 60 percent. They finished at 80.1 percent, ranking 23rd in the league.

Improving the penalty kill was a priority this season and GM Joe Nieuwendyk’s signings of forwards Vernon Fiddler and Radek Dvorak, two expert penalty killers were seen as key to turning things around when the Stars were shorthanded. So far, so good.

“Bringing in a guy like Vern Fiddler. He’s a great faceoff guy and he starts off the penalty kill. [Radek Dvorak] as well. Both have tremendous experience,” said forward Steve Ott, one of the team’s key penalty killers. “Then you match those guys up with some of the forwards that were already killing penalties on our team and it makes for a real successful three to four rotation of penalty killers.”

Loui Eriksson, Adam Burish and Jake Dowell are among the leaders in shorthanded ice time among the forwards.

Some additions on the backend helped as well. Sheldon Souray has brought some size to the penalty kill unit.

“We’ve got some big bodies on defense like Sheldon, [Mark Fistric], [Nicklas Grossman] and [Adam Pardy],” said defenseman Stephane Robidas, who leads the Stars in shorthanded ice time. “We’ve got other guys like Trevor (Daley) and Alex (Goligoski), who are quick with good positioning. I think we have a good mix of guys who can do different things.”

And then there is the most important penalty killer of all – the goaltender.

“Then you add Kari Lehtonen, our best killer,” said Ott. “Let’s be honest, he’s making the saves.”

Lehtonen has stopped 34 of 36 shots while the Stars are shorthanded for an impressive shorthanded save percentage of .944. But the players in front of him are doing a good job of limiting the quality chances.

“We’re sticking to a very structured penalty kill. We’ve all had a lot of input on it, guys bringing it from their other teams,” said Ott. “We’ve sat down and figured out what the best approach is and if we do our things really well what’s going to make it hard on the power play group. Hopefully we can continue to outwork power plays and kill them off.”

Stars coach Glen Gulutzan has credited associate coach Willie Desjardins and assistant coach Paul Jerrard for their work with the penalty kill this season.

“I think it’s about being on the same page and knowing we need to do,” said Robidas. “I think so far it’s been good, but we’ve got to keep it rolling.”

Lehtonen honored

Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen was named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week Monday. Lehtonen was honored for his 4-0-0 record, 1.48 goals against average and league-leading .955 save percentage.

Toronto’s Phil Kessel was the First Star and John Tavares of the New York Islanders was the Second Star.