Turco comfortable with arrangement

After setting career highs for games played and ice time last season, Stars goaltender Marty Turco has been afforded some rest time with capable backup Alex Auld. "I think this will only benefit all of us in the long run," Turco said. Glenn James/NHLI/Getty Images

FRISCO, Texas -- It's still more than a week before Christmas, yet Dallas Stars goalie Marty Turco has already received a gift: more games off than last season.

Think about that. The Stars have played 32 games this season, and backup Alex Auld has started nine of them. Last season, Turco's backups -- Tobias Stephan and Matt Climie -- started eight games the whole season.

Turco played 74 games last season, the heaviest workload of his career. He logged 4,327 minutes of ice time, second only to Miikka Kiprusoff. Some within the organization don't believe it was a coincidence that Turco also had his worst season since becoming the starter in 2002-03. He had a 2.81 goals-against average as the Stars missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

The problem last season was the coaching staff did not trust the backup goaltenders enough to give Turco, 34, some breaks. A handful of times, Stephan started games and couldn't finish them. That meant Turco would get only a period or two off.

That's not the issue this season. Auld's play has been solid enough that coach Marc Crawford isn't afraid to give Turco a rest. He wants to get his starting goalie in a rhythm but avoid overworking him. Auld, who is 4-2-3 this season, gives him the flexibility to do that.

Last weekend was a prime example. Turco had played 10 of the last 11 games, and Crawford decided to give him a rest for Saturday's game in Los Angeles. Turco used the time to work with goalie coach Mike Valley.

"Those were the opportunities he wasn't afforded last year," Crawford said. "The sharpness in his game comes from the confidence he gets with getting his timing and getting the feel because he's playing a lot. But the crispness and the cleanliness in his game come from practicing and making sure he's on top of those elements of his game.

"It is a muscle memory, a lot of shot and recovery for the goalie. You don't get a chance to practice it if you're just playing. That's been good for Marty."

Will this philosophy work and make Turco more productive down the stretch as the Stars attempt to make the playoffs in the ultracompetitive Western Conference? The Stars sure hope so.

So far, general manager Joe Nieuwendyk sees a goalie that, like the rest of his team, is inconsistent. But he's also seen his play get better the last few games.

"He strives for that consistency," Nieuwendyk said. "He's very athletic, does so many things well and handles the puck better than probably every goalie in the league. His last four games have been pretty solid. I think he'd just like to eliminate those goals that you wonder how they get in."

Statistically, Turco has played better this season than last. But he's in the middle of the league in goals-against average (2.45) and save percentage (.914). Part of that has to do with some defensive breakdowns at times as the Stars adjust to learning a more aggressive offensive system. But the Stars and Turco would like for those numbers to get a little better. He's also in the middle of the league in games played (23) and ice time (1,395 minutes). That's right where the Stars want Turco to be as he progresses this season.

Without the club's confidence in Auld, that wouldn't be possible. Turco's 6-foot-5 backup came in this summer and immediately gained the trust of the dressing room, something that impressed Turco.

"Every day he cements those beliefs," Turco said. "He's a great team guy. And for me, personally, he's great to work with. We're harmonious in our schedule and wants and needs, even away from the ice in the gym. We think a lot along the same lines and it's a great balance."

Auld, meanwhile, is focused on preparing every day to play whenever the coaches tell him to get in the game.

"Alex has been a very hard worker," Crawford said. "When he's been given his opportunities, I think he's fully prepared for them. He always seems to do well when he's ready and had practice time. His challenge would be if we have to use him over and over again."

Right now, that's not what is being asked of Auld. His job is to give Turco a break when needed and to do it in a way that the team believes there isn't a severe drop-off when Turco isn't out there. Auld has done that. And he's taking advantage of the chance to work with Turco in practice every day.

"I'm learning a lot about playing the puck and the way he sees the game and how much time you have with the puck," Auld said. "He keeps getting better because he picks his spots more. To be able to watch that on a daily basis has been huge."

As Turco points out, it's tough to gauge whether the Stars' plan of allowing him extra practice time and showing faith in his backup will turn into critical points come playoff time. But Turco admits he's comfortable this season and that he likes the arrangement so far.

"The more time you get with the goalie coaches working on stuff, the better," Turco said. "I think this will only benefit all of us in the long run. We both want to be smart, sharp and ready and fresh."

That's the plan, at least. We'll have a better idea if it works in a few months.

Richard Durrett covers the Dallas Stars for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter; or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.