Even though Tim Thomas has done very well for the Dallas Stars in Kari Lehtonen’s absence, it is only right to lean on Lehtonen when he returns.
Lehtonen is no stranger to carrying his team through a season. If not for injuries, he would likely have manned the net for three-fourths of the Stars’ games since he arrived in 2010. This season looked no different until the acquisition of Thomas.
Thomas was the starting goalie for the Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers before being traded to the Stars on Mar. 5. He was brought in to relieve some of the pressure on Lehtonen to play most of the remaining games of the regular season. Instead of having Lehtonen play 17 of the last 20 games of the season, Thomas’ arrival could have led to him step in for four or five more games, if needed.
Since Lehtonen suffered a concussion in a game against the Minnesota Wild on Mar. 8, Thomas has played every minute in net. He was perfect in relief of Lehtonen against the Wild, gave up a power play goal after three straight shots in the postponed game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and he backstopped the Stars to a thrilling 3-2 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues. Despite the final result, a 4-3 shootout loss to the Calgary Flames, Thomas was very strong in net Friday night.
Even with such positive outings for Thomas, when Lehtonen is healthy enough to play, the Stars need to play him and lean on him to end the season.
Given he is cleared to play soon, Lehtonen is capable of carrying the load for several games in a row. He may need to be rested for a game when the Stars play two games in three nights or three in four nights, but he can play most of the rest.
They key is that if the Stars make the playoffs, they will most likely do so with Lehtonen in net. It would be unwise to have Thomas play a majority of the remaining games and then throw Lehtonen in for the playoffs. They would want him to get in a rhythm, get a feel for the game again and maybe pick up some momentum.
Of course, this is all is based on Lehtonen returning to the lineup soon and the Stars making the playoffs. They currently sit eighth in the Western Conference with a two-point lead and tiebreakers over the ninth-place Phoenix Coyotes. Lehtonen began skating again recently and returned to practice Saturday, so his return seems to be sooner rather than later.
If the Stars hope for a successful run to the postseason, they will need to get their starting goalie back in net and lean on him during their playoff push.