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Kari Lehtonen Focused On Reaching Elite Levels

by Staff Writer / Dallas Stars

Dallas Stars players are starting to trickle into town, and among the first is goaltender Kari Lehtonen. He’s been in Dallas for about month, he said, after spending some time in both Finland and Atlanta.

Lehtonen has been working out four days a week for the past couple weeks and that has included some on-ice sessions with goaltending coach Mike Valley.

“He looks good,” said Valley. “He’s focused as ever. He’s spent the summer working hard and he looks in good shape. He looks really good.”

Lehtonen’s commitment to conditioning has been key to his solid play the last two seasons for the Stars. His work in the offseason has been a big part of that, and his routine this summer was similar to what he’s done the past two years.

“That’s why I wanted to go to Atlanta and see my trainer there,” Lehtonen said. “That’s been working the last couple summers, working with him on the overall strength for my body. When I come here we do more specific things for my core, my groins and then, of course, going on the ice.”

This offseason was shorter for Lehtonen. After the Stars season ended he headed to Helsinki to play for Finland at the 2012 IIHF World Championships.

“It was a good experience,” said Lehtonen. “Things didn’t go as well as I planned, but t was nice to play in my old rink. I’ve never seen that much excitement on the streets about our games. It was fun until the last few games. They didn’t go very well and then I hurt my knee a little bit. That was tough.”

Lehtonen suffered a minor knee injury in a game against Team USA when American forward Bobby Ryan fell on him in the crease. Lehtonen said the knee was sore for about a month, but that it is fine now.

“It’s totally perfect,” Lehtonen said. “No problems.”

The injury did end play at the tournament for Lehtonen, who played in four games and posted a 2-2 record, a 2.85 goals against average and an .894 save percentage.

“I think it was a great experience for him,” said Valley. “Obviously, it was unfortunate that he got hurt, but it was something new and he got to play another month. There were a lot of positive things that he could learn out of that. He walks away with a great experience and it adds to his desire to become even better.”

Lehtonen put up some of his best numbers as a starting goaltender last season. He ranked 8th in the NHL with a .922 save percentage and 10th with a 2.33 goals against average. It was another step forward for Lehtonen, and the goal this season is more of the same.

“It’s to continue the process that he’s been on. You’ve seen him evolving every year. Last year he was our MVP, arguably,” said Valley. “Now, it is to continue to do that, continue to show that he is a top goalie, an elite goalie in the league. Now it is to take it one step further and become among the very top. I believe in him, I believe in his abilities and I believe in him as a person. He can get himself there.”

The goal for Lehtonen and the Stars this season is to get to the playoffs. Lehtonen has made it to the playoffs just once in his NHL career, and the Stars haven’t made it since 2008. The last two misses have come with Lehtonen as the No. 1 goaltender, and the Stars have been close each time.

“We’ve been a good team the last couple of years, but we have not been great. If you are a great team, you can win games when you are not having your best night,” said Lehtonen. “When you are (a) good (team), you need to have luck and be great to get points and wins. Our young guys are a year older, and they know by now what you need to do to be better and to win games. Adding those older guys who have seen it and done it, I think that is going to help us.”

Those older guys are forwards Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney, who signed with the Stars as free agents in July. They are two veterans with impressive resumes, a wealth of experience and knowledge of what it takes to win in the NHL.

“A guy like Jagr, everybody is honored to get to play with a guy like that,” said Lehtonen. “(Whitney) can do it all, pass the puck, make plays and score also. What I’ve heard from people is that he is a great guy, great professional.

“All those guys that are older and are still playing at a very high level, they do the little things right. Everybody is going to look at what they do and try to learn. They are great additions.”

Lehtonen is familiar with another offseason addition – center Derek Roy, who was acquired in the trade that sent Steve Ott and Adam Pardy to Buffalo. They played against each other in the Eastern Conference when Lehtonen was with the Atlanta Thrashers. They also share the same agent. And Lehtonen sees some similarity between where Roy is now and where he was just before the trade that brought him to Dallas.

“I was talking to our agent a couple of weeks ago and (Roy) is excited to come here,” said Lehtonen. “I think he ended up in a similar situation that I was in – you need to go somewhere else and you need a change of scenery. I think he is going to be re-energized and wanting to show these guys in the locker room and the fans that he is an extremely good player.”

The additions to the team meant subtractions, and that is always a tough part of the business. This offseason a couple of long time Stars departed with Ott being dealt to Buffalo and Mike Ribeiro heading to Washington in the deal that brought center Cody Eakin to Dallas.

“It’s tough to see people go. Those two guys were great to me,” said Lehtonen. “I sat next to Mike in the locker room for two-and-a-half years. When I came here, Steve was one of the guys who really helped me get comfortable. That’s why it’s hard to see guys like that go. But it happens maybe not every year, but every other year in this business. I’m sure the new guys will help us a lot. It will take a little time to get to know them, but I am excited to see them come here.”

Lehtonen on Bachman’s new mask

Stars goaltender Richard Bachman has created a buzz with his new mask, which is a tribute to Stephen King’s “The Shining.” It’s a fitting design for Bachman since King has written several books under the name Richard Bachman.

Kari Lehtonen said he is familiar with his goaltending partner’s new mask.

“I’ve seen pictures,” Lehtonen said.

Shown a picture of the mask on an iPhone, Lehtonen studied it for a few seconds and then offered some thoughts.

“It’s different,” he laughed. “I think he liked mine. It’s kind of the same color. I’m going to have to figure out something new.”

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