After watching a dominant 6-1 win over Norway on Friday afternoon there were likely very few people who looked at Finland and thought that they have a huge question mark to answer. This is not only because of this singular victory that was a great team wide game from start to finish but also because of the fact that the team beat Austria by a score of 8-4 just a day ago. A victory over Canada on Sunday will ensure an automatic spot in the quarterfinals of the Men’s Hockey Tournament at the Sochi Olympics.
Still, two big victories has not changed the fact that Finland has not established a No. 1 goaltender as Tuukka Rask started the first game and Kari Lehtonen the second. And while both goalies scored valuable victories, there is little doubting that Finland coach Erkka Westerlund should choose Lehtonen to start the pivotal game against Canada and the subsequent knockout stage games.
Lehtonen was nothing short of spectacular during his Olympic debut on Friday, fending off 20 out of 21 shots and providing a stabilizing force in the rare occasion that Austria got genuine chances on net. His glove hand was nothing short of spectacular, and his angling in the net made it nearly impossible for opposing players to get even the smallest glimpse of a hole to shoot at. Additionally, at 6-foot-4, 217-pounds, the 30-year-old is a brick wall in the net. Despite this size, he still has the ability to move side to side and down low, making him the near complete goaltender.
What turns Lehtonen from a stable goalie to a world class player on the Olympic ice surface is his ability to move the puck, a factor that is limited by the trapezoid behind the net at the NHL level. On Friday night, left unlatched to play the puck from all corners of the defensive zone, the 30-year-old was out and about whenever he had the chance, effectively serving as a third defenseman out of the back and moving the puck into the neutral zone when possible. The fact that this translated into two assists on the night was thoroughly impressive and made Lehtonen a higher scorer for the Sochi Olympic tournament than Sidney Crosby for the time being, leading him two points to one.
When it comes to winning tournaments that are played in as short of a time period as the Sochi Olympics Men’s Hockey Tournament, finding a hot hand in goal can be the key to winning a gold medal. At the moment there is no doubting that Lehtonen is the hotter hand than Rask, and his ability to adjust to the angles of the larger ice surface and play the puck with stunning efficiency has him looking like a goaltender of the tournament candidate moving forward. In addition to this, choosing Lehtonen will ultimately have Finland earning an Olympic medal with gold looking like a distinct possibility.