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Goaltending A Stars Strong Suit

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

This is the third installment in a series of articles after having visited with Stars Head Coach Glen Gulutzan, previewing the club’s various position groups, special teams and overall team outlook.

One area the Stars didn’t see any change this offseason was goaltending, as Kari Lehtonen is the man in net for the Stars, and Richard Bachman is No. 2 on the depth chart.

Lehtonen is coming off a strong 2011-12 season that saw him rank eighth in the NHL with a .922 save percentage and tenth in the league with a 2.33 goals against average. Those were career-best numbers for Lehtonen, who was among the first Dallas players to return to Frisco this summer.

“He looks terrific,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “He’s put in a lot of work this summer, and he looks really good. It’s a testament to Mike Valley (goaltending coach), J.J. McQueen (player development coordinator) and Brad Jellis (strength and conditioning coach). And it’s a testament to ‘Lehts’ putting in the time. He looks great and I expect him to have a great year.”

Lehtonen was arguably the team’s MVP last season and established himself as a top goaltender in the league. Still, there is more to achieve for Lehtonen, who has been to the playoffs only once in his NHL career, back in 2007 with the Atlanta Thrashers.

“The next step for him is to have playoff success,” said Gulutzan. “That is coming.”

Valley said the key to taking that next step is coming up big at key times.

“The difference between the very, very top guys and kind of the tier right below is who can absolutely steal you that game at that crucial time,” Valley said. “That’s regardless of the chances they get in front of them. Kari has stolen a ton of games for us, but now, it is taking it to the next level and putting the team on his back when they need it the most.”

Bachman, who signed a one-year, one-way contract worth $625,000 this offseason, is expected to be the backup. It’s a job he took over from Andrew Raycroft during last season and performed well, posting an 8-5-1 record, 2.77 goals against average and .910 save percentage.

“’Bachs’ is coming for his second year and we expect him to get better,” said Gulutzan. “The next step for him is to come in here in fantastic condition, and a little quicker because he is so positional. That is going to come with a summer of training, and being a little more settled.”

The Stars see themselves as deeper at the goaltending position this season with the addition of Cristopher Nilstorp, who was signed as a free agent out of the Swedish Elite League. Nilstorp, 28, is coming off two excellent seasons with Farjestad in the Swedish Elite League, including a 2010-11 campaign that saw him help lead the club to the league championship.

Nilstorp is expected to need some time in the AHL to get acclimated to the North American game and playing on the smaller rink, but he should push those above him on the depth chart. That means competition, which is always a good thing.

“Nilstorp is an elite goalie at a pro level, and now we have some competition,” said Gulutzan. “We have depth in goaltending and we have a No. 1 who is a top goaltender in the league. That is going to solidify us back there.”

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