They said he couldn't stay healthy. They said he had bad habits. They said he didn't work on his conditioning. Then he came to Dallas and has thus far proved everyone wrong.
Kari Lehtonen makes his first start against his former team Saturday night at the American Airlines Center as the resurgent Atlanta Thrashers come to the Metroplex for the only meeting between the two this season. Atlanta won the battle last yearn but the Stars are 10-1-1 all-time against them and have already earned 21 points against the Eastern Conference.
The Stars enter play having earned points in their last five games (4-0-1) and recently snapped a five game win-less streak at home against the Oilers. Against an Atlanta team that played and traveled last night Dallas will look to continue rebuilding their reputation as a good home team.
Despite the well documented and wide-spread struggles the Eastern Conference has had against the West this year, the Thrashers are an impressive 6-4-2 against them, including 3-1-1 on the road.
Atlanta is 2-5-3 on the second night of back-to-backs this year.
Dallas needs the win to stay ahead of the red-hot Phoenix Coyotes who are surging, just four points back of the Stars entering Saturday night play.
Continued after the jump...
A full 10 days after the rather off pre-period collision involving Matt Niskanen and Karlis Skrastins, the Latvian half of that pair will return to action tonight and could play with Mark Fistric who saw his partner of late, Philip Larsen, sent back to Cedar Park and the Texas Stars.
Toby Petersen (foot) and Niskanen (hand) remain doubtful for return in the near future, but the sparse January schedule the rest of the way should allow everyone to heal in time for the big playoff push coming in February and April.
Keep your eye on the Ribeiro line tonight because Jamie Langenbrunner joins the trio full time according to Marc Crawford. Jamie will continue to enjoy time on the PP and PK in the mean time. His minutes will steadily increase as he becomes more comfortable in the system, but that doesn't mean that the other Jamie's minutes will decrease.
The Stars third line, starring Steve Ott and Adam Burish, is getting just as many opportunities as their first and second lines lately. That's where Jamie Benn finds himself and they should have opponents and their coaches worried about three Dallas personnel groupings that can score the puck.
Kari Lehtonen makes his fifth Stars of the New Year is 3-0-1 in his last four outings.
Watch out for Atlanta's back end. Dustin Byfuglien leads NHL defensemen with 41 points and his buddy Enstrom has 39 points. Those guys will burn you in transition and on the power play. The Thrashers have the league's sixth best PP at 21.5%.
Byfuglien's offensive output is making him an early Norris Trophy candidate. This will be Stars' fans one and only shot this year to see if the forward turned d-man is really playing defense or is just scoring from the back line.
They have a pretty strong 11-8-4 record on the road and are barely holding down the eight seed in the east. After a 5-2 loss to the Flyers last night, these guys are looking to get back on track in a big way. Here are last night's highlights against Philly...
From those moving pictures it appears to be a blessing that the Stars will likely see backup net-minder Chris Mason on Saturday night, but people have said the same about Andrew Raycroft this season and we know how well that's worked out for them.