|Lehtonen and Andy Moog |
The Dallas Stars’ first game back will be March 2 against the Los Angeles Kings, one of the eight teams ahead of them in the Western Conference standings. It is the first of 16 games in the last 30 days of March for the Stars, 14 of which are against teams currently in a playoff spot. But Stars’ coach Marc Crawford said that the schedule ahead presents a good opportunity for his team.
“It’s going to be exciting. I think the break came at a good time for our club, because I think that even though we were playing well, I do think we’re going to benefit well from the rest that was provided, especially for people like Stephane Robidas
and Mike Modano. You go down the list, and there were clearly some guys who were fatigued. Coming down the stretch, we were winning because our goalie was playing remarkably well and we were getting some timely scoring from our group.”
Speaking of goalies, one of the major storylines around the club is the addition of Kari Lehtonen
, the 26-year-old Finnish goaltender who has played his entire career with the Atlanta Thrashers after being picked No. 2 overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. With Alex Auld being claimed by the New York Rangers off re-entry waivers Saturday, it looks probable that the Stars will not trade the incumbent Marty Turco, but keep him through the season. Turco said that the addition of Lehtonen doesn’t add any more pressure to what he has to do.
“The pressure is always there,” Turco said. “The only thing I really look at is where the team sits in the standings, how we’ve been playing, and what I can do.”
What he can do is try to build off his recent success. Turco went 3-0-1 in the last four games before the Olympic break, with two shutouts. All three wins were against Western Conference teams that the Stars are chasing for a playoff spot.
“He’s always been a great reaction goaltender. When he’s seeing the puck, and he’s feeling comfortable and loose, he seems to play his best hockey. And he’s done that over the last two-week period.,” Crawford said.
After Friday’s practice, Crawford was asked how he would play each goaltender down the stretch.
“Our plan is that we’re going to try and win every game. That’s the way it has to be. Marty’s going to get the first game and that’s as far as we’ve gone. For the sake of planning, we want to get Kari in, because I don’t think it’s fair for him to go too long without playing. But apart from getting him into a game fairly quick, we’re going to take a look at each game, and try and do whatever we can to try and win each game.”
Lehtonen hasn’t appeared in an NHL game yet this season because of an injury, but he has played four games for the AHL’s Chicago Wolves. Despite a winning record in his career – a 94-83-17 record in 204 NHL contests, Lehtonen admitted to needing a fresh start, and is eager to play with his new team.
“It’s exciting for me. I spent many years in Atlanta, and the last couple of years weren’t going well. So it’s great to have the opportunity with a great team like this. It’s exciting,” Lehtonen said. “Anything I get, I will be happy, and I’m just excited to do my best.”