Stars fans, you better hope I don’t jinx this great run right now.
In case your pretty shocked like I am right now, Kari Lehtonen is currently the leagues best goalie. Yes, this is the guy. After five games this season, Lehtonen is leading the NHL in wins with 5 and saves, with 172. In five games he’s allowed only 8 goals and is sixth in the NHL in goals-against average with 1.58.
But, remember, this is only after 5 games.
Lehtonen was drafted 2nd overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2002 entry draft, but until this year, he was never able to prove it. A mix of injuries and inconsistency always had him outplayed by goalies Johan Hedberg and Ondrej Pavelec in Atlanta, and Marty Turco in Dallas. There was no room for the big 6’4 goaltender to stay on the injured reserve with the now Winnipeg Jets, so Kari was sent to Dallas for Ivan Vishnevsky. Over four seasons with the Thrashers, Lehtonen compiled a record of 94-83-17 with 14 shutouts. He led Atlanta to the franchise’s only playoff appearance in 2006-07.
It’s not like the team is dominating the games, but they have won all but one. Lehtonen has won 3 games by a one goal this year, while the team in general has scored more 4 or more goals twice. Without Richards, the Stars are missing a huge part of their offense that has yet to been replaced. Lehtonen’s confidence and near-perfect play has given this team the chance to overcome some shortcomings in this young season. While there have been some very bright spots to be proud of, the Stars are struggling in some areas that would normally derail most teams leading to some ugly losses. Lehtonen has been solid yet spectacular at times and for the Stars, that’s been the difference between losing and winning.
Last season, he wore down and the Stars began to struggle. While it’s just five games, Lehtonen and the Stars are showing that the long-term prediction for this high level of success is good; it’s not just Lehtonen who is playing great, it’s a great defensive effort as well. Sheldon Souray, who played with the Hershey Bears for the entire 2010-2011 season, has been very impressive, along with Trevor Daley, Mark Fistric, Adam Pardy, Nicklas Grossman, Stephane Robidas and Alex Goligoski.
So is it the defense that is doing the work? That is not the case. Yes, they are making an impact, but Lehtonen is standing tall (literally) between the pipes. Is he the real deal? Again, it has only been 5 games. Lehtonen will eventually wear down, taking the team back to reality. They are not a very strong team whatsoever, but if they continue to play the defensive style they have been, and Lehtonen stays strong, they may actually be a threat come playoff time.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
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