When Joe Nieuwendyk took over management of this team it did not take long to learn his thoughts on goaltending. It only made sense, given what happened in Joe's heyday here in Dallas. Belfour was a rock. Turco was pushing up from the minors. Many other young men who would make NHL careers for themselves were also battling in the organization. It was a position of strength and of pride.
His public statements were clear (and I'm thinking of a very specific intermission interview he gave on January 16th, 2010) and his actions spoke louder, acquiring Kari Lehtonen and then drafting Jack Campbell: It all starts in net.
That's where the Stars come back started Wednesday against Calgary. That's where it started at home against Chicago in the same situation down three goals early on February 11th. In both cases Kari Lehtonen kept battling, made what would later be considered mammoth stops, and probably salvaged three points out of desperate situations.
His demeanor, professionalism and team-first attitude never waiver. When the chips are down, his focus is right there. When asked anything in the locker room he immediately turns the attention to the team as a whole. It's a stark contrast to some of the Dallas netminders of the past. They've had some real...."emotional" characters in the past, great as they were.
He may have health concerns and he may have a similar save percentage (.911 & .914) as his backup Andrew Raycroft, but Kari Lehtonen, for the above reasons and for so many more, needs to start every game from now until the ride ends this year.
His save against Tanguay short handed in the first period and the subsequent larceny on a late Calgary power play may have been saves down 3-0, but they were the right saves at the right time. They allowed for a comeback. Those are the saves he's been making all year long, and his numbers don't tell that tale. We've said it all along. He makes that save when you need it, and that's why the Stars will ride him, for the most part or completely, the rest of the way.
Only two back to backs remain. Raycroft could get a start then in April because we might know how this is all going to play out by then. If Lehtonen gets 14 of the last 15 starts it will tie his career high mark of 68 games in a season. Will the health jokes then stop from the rest of the media and blogosphere? I hope we get to find out.
What say you?