Dallas Stars goaltending coach Jeff Reese said having two veterans who are accustomed to starting, Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen, is more of a blessing than a curse.
The Stars traded for the rights to Niemi on the second day of the 2015 NHL Draft and signed him to a three-year contract, raising questions about how he and Lehtonen, the returning starter, would split the job. But Reese, who's entering his first season with the Stars, said having two goaltenders who are used to being No. 1 won't be a major problem.
"Right now, we've got two veteran guys," Reese told the Stars website Tuesday. "It's going to make my job a lot easier, and it's a nice situation for me to come into, no question. You've got two No. 1 goalies that can play a lot of games and give you a chance to win every night. I am pretty excited about it."
Niemi, 31, started 61 games last season for the San Jose Sharks and went 31-23-7. He has started at least 60 games in each of the past four full NHL seasons. Lehtonen, also 31, has been with the Stars since 2010 and is coming off a season when he was 34-17-10 in 65 games.
"Certainly it is going to be an adjustment for both of them," Reese said. "I am not going to sit here and say that one of them is going to be happy playing 35 games or 40 games. They both want to play.
"There [are 12 sets of] back-to-back games, a lot of travel, and it would be nice to have a fresh goalie in there. Hopefully, they are going to work well together. They know each other (each is from Finland). But like I said, it's a team game, and they are going to have to put their egos aside here. It's all about winning and making the playoffs. It's going to be a friendly and good competition. They are going to push each other and help each other too; I hope that is going to be the situation, and they help each other get better."
Lehtonen tied his NHL career-high with 34 wins in 2014-15, but his goals-against average (2.94) was his highest since 2008-09 and his save percentage (.903) was the lowest of his career.
Niemi, a Stanley Cup winner with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, also struggled last season. He had the highest GAA of his career (2.59) and the fewest wins he's had in a season when he started at least 60 games.
"I hear everybody talk about Kari's year and how bad he was, but he still had 34 wins," Reese said. "You look at a guy like [Philadelphia Flyers goalie] Steve Mason, who had great numbers but only had 18 wins. I look at things a little bit differently. Now I know there are areas for improvement from what I hear, and even Kari admits it himself. But 34 wins is not that bad a year. I know the numbers we want to get better. There will be a lot of pressure when he plays this year. Like I said, I hope [Niemi and Lehtonen] can push each other and help each other."