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With Lehtonen Ailing, Raycroft Provides Stability in Goal for Stars

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While the more "mainstream" hockey media types (bloggers, tv, radio, and print media alike) think making "Kari Lehtonen injury" jokes are funny, the Stars and their fans are taking the situation quite seriously. They've brought him along slowly after the Finn complained of lower body stiffness (back, we think) and he's missed one week and a total of four games.

It's a new experience for most Dallas Stars fans. Marty Turco rarely missed four games in a row. In fact, Marty Turco rarely missed two games in a row. This fragility is a new adventure for even the older Stars fans. Who they would get to backup Kari was a primary concern heading into the off-season and there were those who doubted Raycroft's ability to handle the load by himself should the seemingly inevitable happen to Lehtonen.

That's not a knock on Raycroft as much as it is a testament to where Kari's game was before the time off. It would be hard for anyone to fill those shoes, but Raycroft managed a huge win in San Jose on Monday and a brilliant performance against the Hurricanes over the weekend. He was hung out to dry by his team against the Coyotes and Blackhawks. 2-2 may not curl your toes, but he's proven to be more than capable in Lehtonen's absence.

Now the Stars hope to get Kari, who had a good day of practice on Tuesday, back for Thursday's game, alleviating the pressure on Raycroft. At least for now.

Either way Stars fans can feel confident in whoever suits up right now. Raycroft had Bob Sturm asking over the weekend: "Watching NHL On the Fly, wondering if the Stars have 2 goalies playing better than Marty Turco." -@bobanddan.

A fair question, as Turco was pulled from his last start this weekend and is enjoying an. 896 S% and a GAA over 3.00. Lehtonen, in his last five starts boasts a S% of .940 and had allowed only 1.8 G/G in that time...

It kills me to disparage Marty Turco in any way, shape or form. The man was a favorite of mine and still is, but it's hard to ignore the facts.

Last year around this time we posted a "holiday wish list" of sorts, highlighting our most pressing wants and needs as Dallas Stars fans in a tumultuous time. Worley wanted the Stars to find consistency. They were the only team in the league that didn't win three games in a row. Art wished for faceoff specialist David Steckel. Nope. Brandon Bibb wished for improvement from Jamie Benn (yeah) and Matt Niskanen (scratched Monday in San Jose). We'll call that one a wash.

I, meanwhile, asked Hockey Santa Claus for stability at the goaltender position organizationally.

Guess whose wish came true(est)?

Fans of this franchise had become spoiled at the position of goaltender. A decade+ of Crazy Eddie and Marty Turco guarding the Dallas nets produced an indifference (irreverence?) toward the position as a whole. It wasn't a problem. There were no injuries. Those guys were simply back there, standing at the ready, mopping up any and all messes and that's the way it would always be.

Then came the last two years of Marty Turco in Dallas and people (like me) had a hard time figuring out what they were seeing, which was pretty inconsistent play. It felt unexpected and unnatural, like being mugged in the middle of an empty field. We never had to worry about this before. "How in the heck are we going to get along without the stellar goaltending we've always had?", we said.

A year later and people have already forgotten about it. Kari Lehtonen came in and stabilized the position immediately. That Raycroft was signed for two years at such a reasonable price only reinforced it.

The drafting of Jack Campbell and the emergence of Richard Bachman, who saw his first NHL action last week, add to the tremendous progress the position has seen in 2010. Forget not Tyler Beskorowany, who will try to bully his way into the good graces of Joe Nieuwendyk in the coming months as well, and you've got the makings of some good old fashioned competition, which is always good to have in your organization.

That they've gone from "there is no future for Dallas Stars goaltending" to so many potential happy scenarios in such a short time is a credit to Nieuwendyk and his staff who realize that it all starts in net, and things build from there.

Now we as fans can back to being spoiled and not worrying about it. Lehtonen or Raycroft: Right now it looks like the other end of the ice is more of a concern these days, and knowing the forward talent this team has, that's fine by me.