It took a little while for the second-overall pick of the 2002 Entry Draft to cement his job in Atlanta, but Lehtonen lived up to expectations last season in leading his team to not only its first playoff berth, but also the championship of the Southeast Division. We got an indication of what he could three years ago when Lehtonen went 38-17-2 with a 2.27 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in the AHL. But then he suffered a serious groin injury at the start of the 2005-06 season and ended a difficult year by spraining his ankle.
The injury bug sailed past Lehtonen last season and he produced a 34-24-9 record with a 2.79 GAA and .912 save percentage. Lehtonen was outstanding and showed he is capable of "stealing" games. The Southeast Division has produced a Stanley Cup finalist in three of the five past seasons and Atlanta plays 32 games of its 82 games against divisional rivals. It's hard to gain traction in the division, so a goalie who keeps his team in divisional games is absolutely necessary. Atlanta was 18-7-7 versus the Southeast Division.
Lehtonen, the former player and goaltender of the year in Finland, is 58-39-9 in his NHL career with a 2.78 GAA and .911 save percentage. Those numbers are not spectacular, nor are they bad. It could be argued that based on those numbers and his results, Lehtonen makes the saves that he must.
Still known as "Moose", Johan Hedberg has fashioned a nice NHL career since breaking in with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2001 while still wearing his AHL Manitoba Moose mask. Hedberg, 34, went 9-4-2 with a 2.89 GAA and .898 save percentage. There aren't many goalies who win twice as many games as they lose with a save percentage under .900 so, here again, is a goalie who gives his team a chance to win in his limited opportunities. This is exactly what you want in a backup goalie and that's what Atlanta has.
In the Wings
Ondrej Pavelec -- He first came to international attention during a tournament in 2004 when he helped the Czech Republic to a silver medal. He played that season and the next with the Kladno junior team and has played the past two seasons with Cape Breton in the QMJHL, where he has compiled a 55-29 record 2.52 GAA and .922 save percentage. Pavelec twice led the QMJHL in lowest goals-against average and was second his first year and third his second year in save percentage. He was the QMJHL rookie of the year two seasons ago.
Fred Braithwaite -- The veteran was 22-13-5 with the AHL Chicago Wolves last season and remains on the roster, meaning he's likely to split duties there with Pavelec. Alex Kangas has played three seasons in the USHL after a stellar performance in leading his Minnesota high-school team, Century, the state tournament. Former Kitchener goalie Dan Turple went 18-13-3 with the ECHL Gwinnett Gladiators last season.
"Kari was just like all of those first-timers (in the playoffs) and probably was not as comfortable as he would have liked. That’s experience. But you need to go through this at some point in your career"
1. Lehtonen ranked fourth in the NHL last season in shots against, goals allowed and saves, but was 14th in save percentage.
2. Lehtonen had a heavy work load, ranking sixth in the NHL with 3.934 minutes played.
3. Hedberg started Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals and made 37 saves in a 2-1 loss.
NHL.com's 2007-08 Thrashers Season Preview Package: