As the Dallas Stars, and their fans, count down the years until Jack Campbell is finally able to make his way onto the team, Kari Lehtonen will get his second full season between the pipes for the squad in the 2011-2012 season.
Looking at his numbers, it can be pretty easy to say that his first full season with the Stars was a difficult one. With injuries ravaging the team and his defense failing to support him, Lehtonen ended last year as one of the most shot-at goalies in the NHL, ranking fourth in the league. His goals-against average and save percentage ranked in the 25-30 range of all the starting goaltenders and shut-outs were few and far between (he had three).
Lehtonen was not nearly as bad as his numbers would suggest though. As stated before, the Stars defenders last year were a mistake-filled group of players that often left opponents wide open in front of the net. There were many games where Lehtonen was the main reason why Dallas was even able to keep the game close. With a little luck in with puck bounces, Dallas would have made their way into the playoffs last season.
Lehtonen was on the receiving end of 11 overtime/shootout losses last season, the most in the league. I prefer to be a glass half-full guy so I look at that as 11 games where Kari played well enough to keep the Stars tied at the end of regulation. Win a couple of those games and the Stars would have been in the playoffs last season.
Lehtonen would also benefit with a little more rest this season. Last season, he played in 69 games, the most in his seven-year career. He started 23 straight games at the end of last season when Dallas was in their playoff push and it looked like it tired him out. He's struggled mightily with injuries in the past so part of it would be to keep him healthy, while the other part is to just keep him fresh.
Lehtonen looked tired at the end of last season and it showed in his technique. He often found himself out of position for shots and he seemed to wander a lot out of his net. Keeping him around the or below the 65 game mark might be the best bet for the Stars this season, unless Lehtonen is able to keep his fitness throughout the year.
Their backup goalie, Andrew Raycroft, is a good number 2 option. He started 14 games last year and recorded wins in eight of them, including two shut-outs. It was only when the Stars had their injury troubles when Raycroft started to let in goals in bunches.
He let in five against Vancouver, seven against Calgary and he let in two goals in two minutes (and was pulled just as quickly) against Boston in a fight filled game. Again, this was during a stretch where Dallas was calling up droves of minor league guys just to keep the roster filled because of the injuries that they had taken.
Stars management made it a point to improve the defense around our goaltenders this season. We signed multiple two-way forwards in Jake Dowell, Vernon Fiddler and Radek Dvorak. In comes big hard hitting defenseman Adam Pardy and Sheldon Souray. In comes a new coach in Glen Gulutzan who was the driving force in these changes to improve the defense.
Take it with a grain of salt, but Dallas was excellent in the preseason this year. They went 6-1-0 and did not allow more than three goals in any of their games. Their dedication to the defensive side of the puck is certainly there. Now it's only a matter of seeing if they are able to make it count in the regular season.