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Stars' Lehtonen welcomes competition with Niemi

NHL.com @NHL

Goalie Kari Lehtonen is accustomed to a heavy workload for the Dallas Stars, but after starting 64 and 65 games the past two seasons, Lehtonen will be sharing the crease with veteran Antti Niemi this season.

Lehtonen, 31, is looking forward to some friendly competition.

"It's going to be exciting," Lehtonen told Stars Inside Edge for an article published Monday. "From my point of view, it's a big change to have Antti here. I am excited to see what we can do together.

"I think it is about finding the groove and staying sharp without playing every night. It's going to be a challenge, but I am excited to see because it can work really well. We can both be fresh but still get enough ice time to still stay confident and keep our game going. We'll have to wait and see."

Although Lehtonen tied his career high in wins (34) last season, his 2.94 goals-against average was his worst since 2008-09 (3.06) and his .903 save percentage was the lowest of his career.

"Last year, I wasn't able to find the sweet spot," Lehtonen said. "I was too aggressive for one week, and the next week I was totally opposite, I was way too passive. I found my game for a little time and then I kind of lost it again. I am trying to find more simple rules of how I want to do things consistently, and I think that is going to make me more consistent on the ice."

Niemi, 32, was acquired in a trade with the San Jose Sharks at the 2015 NHL Draft and signed a three-year contract June 29. He was 31-23-7 with a 2.59 GAA, a .914 save percentage and five shutouts last season, and won the Stanley Cup as the No. 1 goalie for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010.

"There's been times during their seasons when they probably needed to be spelled at times, either because of injuries or being a little bit tired," Stars general manager Jim Nill told NHL.com in July. "They know now that they're going to get that chance to be recharged."

Lehtonen and Niemi are familiar with one another. They also shared time in goal for Finland at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

"We were at the Olympics together, grew up a mile apart and we are the same age," Lehtonen said. "We have been crossing paths here and there. He's a really nice guy, and I am happy that he is going to be here. He is going to be pushing me, and I have to do well if I want to get ice time."

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