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Lehtinen getting closer to return

by Staff Writer / Dallas Stars

November 10, 2003

By J. Douglas Foster

Stars head coach Dave Tippett knows that any team, clearly, will miss one of its star players greatly if that player is out of the lineup very long.

But having Jere Lehtinen out of the lineup isn't like just missing any "star player."

"He plays in so many situations for us," Tippett said. "You don't just miss a high-scoring guy or a penalty killer. You miss it all until he's back in the lineup."

The Stars have been without their do-it-all right wing, and last year's leading scorer, since the second game of the season thanks to back spasms he began suffering during the season-opening victory against Anaheim on Oct. 9.

They're hoping they won't be without him too much longer as he picked up his rehabilitation workouts quite a bit last week while the Stars were on the road. He began skating in full uniform and working hard with Stars strength and conditioning coach J.J. McQueen with hopes of getting back into the lineup sooner.

Tippett said Monday that Lehtinen would practice with the team Tuesday, his first full squad workout since the injury. The hopes, Tippett said, is that he could get a full week of practice with the squad, then hopefully return at some point next week.

Lehtinen, being cautiously optimistic, isn't putting any return date out there just yet.

"Every day I'm doing more and more, but I'm not going to jump in," he said. "I'm just taking it one step at a time now."

Those few steps included shooting and passing, which he began doing during Monday's workout. He said he'll start working on shooting harder as the week goes on, and then he'll move on to the ultimate test -- one-on-one battles for loose pucks in the corner.

"I'm not there yet," Lehtinen said. "You don't want to jump right in and bring it (the injury) back."

The idea of his return date getting closer is certainly a welcome one for the Stars and Tippett, though the coach said that return alone won't immediately get the Stars playing at the level they want to be.

"He's a real glue guy," Tippett said. "He molds lines together, he molds our penalty killing together and our power play. There are so many things that make him a valuable guy on our team.

"It's great that he's making progress, but we have more to worry about than just Lehts returning."

For Lehtinen, sitting at home and watching the Stars go 0-for-3 on their recent road trip was certainly a difficult task.

"It's been tough the whole time watching games on television," he said. "Especially right now. On the trip we lost all three games, and that's tough to watch.

"I'm more nervous watching than playing."

Unfortunately, Lehtinen isn't the only Stars player suffering from injury right now. Richard Matvichuk (sore knee), Rob DiMaio (hip flexor) and Teppo Numminen (groin injury) all missed Saturday's game in Boston, while Philippe Boucher (leg injury) played hurt and Aaron Downey (hip pointer) suffered an injury during the game.

Boucher is expected to play Wednesday against the Red Wings, while DiMaio and Matvichuk are probable. Numminen and Downey are both questionable for the game.

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