Know Thy Enemy: Dallas Goaltenders Preview

Kari Lehtonen has been a reliable workhorse for Dallas this season. - Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Anaheim hasn't faced the expected Dallas starter this season, but are more than familiar with their former division rivals.

Since being drafted second overall in the 2002 draft by the Atlanta Thrashers, people have been wondering when Kari Lehtonen would be able to shake early career injury issues and develop into a top NHL netminder befitting his selection. While it wouldn't happen in Atlanta, since being acquired for Ivan Vishnevskiy and a 2010 fourth round draft pick by Dallas he has matured into a a reliable stalwart now in his fourth season as the Stars starter. With the deadline day trade of Dan Ellis to the Panthers for former Vezina and Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas, Dallas not only solved momentary injury issues but also added an experienced veteran hand to help Lehtonen prepare for the postseason load. The big Finn figures to play one of the biggest roles in Stars postseason success.

How did their season go?

Name

Record

Save Percentage

GAA

Kari Lehtonen 33-20-10 .919 2.41
Tim Thomas

2-4-1 (w/ DAL)

18-24-3 Season

.902 (w/ DAL)

.908 Season

2.97 (w/ DAL)

2.88 Season

Jack Campbell 0-1-0 .872 6.00
Cristopher Nilstorp 0-0-0 (39 min) .824 4.62

With his 65 appearances no other NHL goalie saw as much action as Lehtonen, and he rewarded the Stars with near career-high numbers in a majority of categories as well as setting a new personal benchmark with five shutouts. Only Semyon Varlamov saw more rubber and made more saves as the Finn stopped 1,735 of 1,888 shots on the season, and he held opponents to two or fewer goals 34 times. It was a bounce-back year after posting a 15-14-3 record with a 2.66 GAA and .916 SV% last season, though slightly off his career best '11-'12 year which saw him put up a 2.33 GAA and .922 SV%. Lehtonen's play merited a selection to the Finnish Olympic team, where he started in the group stage win over Norway as well as the medal round semis loss against Sweden while Tuukka Rask was out with the flu. Situational save percentage numbers tell an interesting story, as at 5-on-5 he posted a .925 SV%, it dips to .878 with the Stars on the penalty kill, and tumbles to .850 in his 14 overtime appearances.

Much like the Stars team Lehtonen has been a bit streaky results-wise this season, running off four winning streaks of three games though never able to extend one beyond that. Probably his best run of form came during a six start span from December 19-31, where he went 4-0-2 giving up only 11 goals while stopping 169 shots. The big Finn has had a few clunkers, notably giving up five goals on 18 shots in 45:33 at St. Louis on November 23, conceding seven times on 43 shots at the Islanders on January 6, and giving up five goals at Pittsburgh on 32 shots on March 18. Lehtonen has gone 10-12-7 against playoff-qualifying opposition, and enters the postseason having won six of his last eight starts, knocking off St. Louis twice and Tampa Bay in that stretch.

Thomas started the season in Florida, ironically besting the Stars in his Panther debut, and came over to Dallas for Dan Ellis at the trade deadline when Roberto Luongo returned to South Beach. Though no longer the same caliber of goalie that won the Conn Smythe in 2011, at 40 years old Thomas will be on a playoff team for the sixth time in his nine year NHL career. There's a lot to be said for having an experienced hand such as his in a backup role if only to act as a sage for a team vastly untested in the postseason. Campbell was an 11th overall selection in the 2010 draft and made his NHL debut against the Ducks, while largely serving as a backup to 30 year old former Swedish league pro Nilstorp for the Stars AHL affiliate Texas.

Stats vs. Ducks

Name

Record

Save Percentage

GAA

Kari Lehtonen

N/A Season

9-7-3 Career

N/A Season

.918 Career

N/A Season

2.41 Career

Tim Thomas

1-0-0 Season (w/ FLA)

3-3-0 Career

.941 Season (w/ FLA)

.923 Career

2.00 Season (w/ FLA)

2.33 Career

Jack Campbell 0-1-0 .872 6.00

With Ellis off to Sunrise, Thomas is the only goalie to have seen action against Anaheim this year in a 3-2 Panthers win over a flu-ridden Ducks squad on November 12. Lehtonen has had seasons of great success and calamity facing the Ducks, though his most recent track record is a decent one. In the Stars final season as a division rival last season he went 2-2-1, holding the Ducks to just one goal in three of the games. '11-'12 was Lehtonen's best season facing Anaheim, going 4-1-0 while shutting the Ducks out twice and allowing just seven goals. The Ducks had their way with Lehtonen in '10-'11, putting 20 pucks behind him in six games which saw the Stars netminder go 2-2-2. He's certainly a goalie Anaheim is familiar with, and his all-time numbers against the Ducks are slightly better than his career averages.

Playoff Experience

Lehtonen's single trip to the postseason was a largely forgettable one in the Thrashers infamous first round sweep at the hands of the Rangers in '06-'07. In what was his second full NHL season, Lehtonen went 0-2, giving up 11 goals on 73 shots for a putrid .849 SV% and 5.59 GAA as head coach Bob Hartley played goalie roulette in futile attempt to spark his squad. During his two playoff runs while with Atlanta's AHL affiliate in Chicago he won four series, posting a 16-10 record with a .940 SV% and 1.96 GAA as the Wolves made the Calder Cup Final in '04-'05. Thomas has the lion's share of experience in the tandem, going 29-21 in his four playoff runs as a starter with the Bruins, backstopping Boston to the Stanley Cup in 2011.

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