FRISCO — Somehow, Stars defenseman Esa Lindell is doing both what is expected from him, and also something the NHL hasn’t seen in almost 15 years.
Lindell has been a workhorse this season on the penalty kill for Dallas, something that’s been a common theme throughout his time with the Stars, but has averaged 4:27 of ice time per game on the kill, which would be the highest mark in the league since 2008-09.
Lindell has been on the ice for almost two-thirds of the time the Stars have been shorthanded, helping Dallas notch the second-best penalty kill in the league (5.54 goals allowed per 60 minutes).
“He’s got real good feet,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said. “He closes quickly. He’s aggressive, makes aggressive reads and he’s a strong guy. I think penalty killing is a lot of one-on-one battles for pucks and clears. There’s not many guys that come out of puck battles with the puck against him.”
A 6-3, 220-pound left-handed defenseman, he has been a part of the Stars’ PK for his entire NHL career. Since Lindell became a full-time NHL player in 2016-17, only two players (Jaccob Slavin and Ivan Provorov) have spent more time shorthanded than he has.
“I take pride in it and being out there,” Lindell said. “Not the same as power play, but special teams, you want to help your team in any way. I’ve always liked to battle hard.”
Under DeBoer this season, Lindell’s job has been almost all defense.
In previous seasons, he played plenty of offensive situations with his partner John Klingberg. He even played on the power play, both in the bumper and at the point. But this season, he hasn’t spent time on the power play, and his even-strength partner is Jani Hakanpää, a pairing of two defense-first players.
As a result, the Stars and assistant coach Alain Nasreddine lean heavily on Lindell in defensive situations, like killing penalties.
“He’s a big, powerful man,” DeBoer said. “I think he’s built to play heavy, hard minutes. I don’t worry about that with him.”
There have even been times this season when Lindell and Hakanpää, who also play on the same pair killing penalties, will take a two-minute shift on the penalty kill.
It’s a sign things are going either very well and they are not tired because the opposing power play is not making them work, or very poorly and the opposing power play is not letting them get to the bench to change.
“If it’s a faceoff, sometimes Nas looks at us and sees if we are OK to stay after 40 or 50 seconds,” Lindell said. “We spoke about that. They said if you’re gassed, because we want to pressure hard and be aggressive, then change. Sometimes, we have good clears and not let them set up so easily, that forced us to not work as much, then two minutes is possible.”
DeBoer: “Well, they rest during the power play, so that’s their chance to catch up because neither of them will see a power play this year.”
This season, the Stars have switched to a more aggressive penalty kill, a diamond-shaped formation, that tries to shut down shots from the flanks more. As a result, defensemen like Lindell have to block fewer shots.
“Everybody copies everyone,” Lindell said. “I think Carolina was the best last year, maybe last couple years. They’ve been playing a diamond and been so aggressive.”
Briefly: DeBoer said the Stars are planning to use the same lineup on Sunday against Minnesota, meaning defenseman Nils Lundkvist is likely looking at his third straight healthy scratch.