The last few games have not gone well for Dallas Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen. Usually Lehtonen is as reliable as they come, and has played at a level high enough to mask many of the mistakes that the Stars defensive corps have made. Generally Lehtonen can be counted on to save around 92 percent of the shots directed at him and allow three goals or less. Over the last three games that Lehtonen has played, however, he has allowed 14 goals on 84 opponent shots (save percentage of .833).
Despite the recent struggles, it was announced recently that Lehtonen will be a member of the Finnish Olympic team along with Tuukka Rask and Antti Niemi. Most are projecting Lehtonen to be the third goalie on the depth chart. It is a tremendous honor for Lehtonen to not only to make the team but be selected ahead of such goalies as Pekka Rinne, Niklas Backstrom, and Karri Ramo.
Even though the last few games Lehtonen hasn’t been at his best, the selection was a good one for the Fins. Lehtonen has demonstrated that he is capable of single-handedly stealing games that the team in front of him does not belong in. How many times over the recent years have we seen Dallas get dominated in every facet of the game only to be within a shot late? How many last second saves, amazing efforts and 40-plus save performances has Lehtonen come up with to keep the Stars in the hunt? How many games has he managed to make subpar defensive performances in front of him look respectable?
The Finnish team will no doubt be stronger on the blue line than Dallas has during this long rebuilding process. I for one am very excited to see what kind of performances Lehtonen can muster up behind a more competent and experienced blue line. Even if he doesn’t play a single minute in Sochi, this should help the Stars in the long run by allowing Lehtonen to observe a goalie who has won a Stanley Cup and another who was on the cusp of a decisive Game 7 last season.
His play of late hasn’t been up to the par that Dallas fans have been accustomed to, but those in charge of selecting the Finnish Olympic team understood that Lehtonen is much better than he has played recently. Congrats to you, Kari.