Defending Big D rolls on with our season previews this morning as opening night against the Chicago Blackhawks at home is only two days away. Today we take a look at the men between the Dallas Stars pipes...
The 17-word blurb placed in the Dallas Stars slot of various national power rankings last season said a lot about the national perception of the team. Early in the season they sometimes included early Brad Richards jibes, genuine Loui Eriksson praise, but most often a Kari Lehtonen health joke. That's what he had to contend with. That's what Joe Nieuwendyk had to contend with.
After nearly a decade of Marty Turco, the position of netminder was finally a question again for this franchise and Lehtonen, having come from the Eastern Conference (where national media types feast the most), was the piñata of choice. Until he wasn't any more.
A closer look at Kari Lehtonen, and a look at the other man behind the mask (and behind Kari) after the jump...
The Finn played an iron-man's 69 games, including the final 23 of the season, with a 2.55 GAA and a .914 SV%.
With the durability questions out of the way and his 28th birthday nearing in November, Lehtonen now eyes taking the next step with his numbers and becoming a top-tier netminder in this league, and Glen Gulutzan's more defensively responsible system, not to mention that Stars revamped blue line, should help him with that.
Much has been said about Kari Lehtonen's conditioning over the years, fair or not, and therefore his weight and appearance. He reportedly did not take conditioning as seriously as he could of while in Atlanta and this led to speculation about his various injuries being a symptom of it. Whether that's true or not, we cannot say.
What I can say is that the old eye ball test is encouraging for the second year in a row. Last year it was weight loss, this year it's toning up. Media of all kinds have noticed it after a summer off, and the truth is (according to the media guides) is that he was listed at 215 lbs last year and 217 this year. He's toned up, slimmed down, and put on some muscle.
If the eye ball test isn't enough then witness his preseason numbers where he saved 92 of 97 shots faced, good for a .948 SV% and a 1.86 GAA.
69 games might have proven a point about his back last season, but you can bet the new Stars coaching staff is looking at dialing those minutes down a little, particularly down the stretch. Many felt fatigue played a role last year for Kari in addition to the atrocious injury problems sustained by the team as a whole.
The most important guy in a Kari Lehtonen led goaltending tandem, many would tell you, is the guy backing him up. Kari proved that wasn't the case last year but one never can tell, and the job falls once again to Andrew Raycroft this year, who has been a starter off and on throughout his career.
Rather than compile these stats and say this all over again, let's go back to our Andrew Raycroft impact player profile from August and recount what we said about his 2010-2011 season...
"A Raycroft start meant confidence for fans and players alike early on in the season. Of his fourteen starts TEN came before the New Year and he went 7-3 in those contests with a .926 save percentage, including games he nearly single handedly stole all by his lonesome against the Capitals (37 saves on 38 shots) and the Predators (44 saves on 46 shots). Then came the second half of the year.
Two very unfortunate games, the two single most unfortunate games in this bloggers mind last year when charting the course of the season, came on Andrew Raycrofts watch. The first was the seven goal shellacking he received in Calgary on January 21st, ending a near perfect run that month and opening the flood gates that would follow in Vancouver two nights later just before the All-Star game. The second was the catastrophic moment in Boston where he allowed two goals in 80 seconds before being shown the bench door by Marc Crawford." -Defending Big D
Marc Crawford appeared to lose confidence in his backup after that and would start him only once more down the stretch, making a very dichotomous year for the guy they call "Rayzor." (Not to be confused with Razor)
This preseason made three appearances, stopping 59 of 64 shots he faced (.922) with a GAA of 2.50. Two of the games were partial efforts split with Richard Bachman and his lone complete game was a 33 save shutout of the St. Louis Blues to close the exhibition season, cementing his place as the Stars backup, which was probably secure before then anyway.
What if one of these men were to fall to injury and miss an extended period of time? Richard Bachman is waiting in the wings with the Texas Stars and impressed for the second training camp and preseason in a row this year. Coach Glen Gulutzan is very familiar with him of course, having ridden him hard last year in Cedar Park and would probably feel pretty comfortable putting the young man in the pipes to back up Raycroft or Lehtonen should the situation arise. (Knock on wood).
Bachman is a smaller goaltender by today's ever growing standard, but moves well and is technically sound. Thos who watch this team closely and write/talk about it for a living entertained the possibility that Bachman could replace Raycroft on merit alone, though Rayzor won out in the end both times. Deservedly so. Beyond Bachman, should there be some kind of industrial accident affecting only goaltenders or the like, is Tyler Beskorowany and his LARGE frame could even be an option for a backup role before the Stars had to sift the free agent pile. Insert Marty Turco joke here.
As with the defense, you should see a commitment from the forwards to help out more, an improved penalty kill, a coach that cares deeply about what happens in the defensive zone, and a revised game plan that makes Kari Lehtonen's job a little easier this season. He proved he was ready to be a healthy #1 last year. This year he wants to take the next step, and preseason indicated that he's well on his way.