The Stars' No. 2 all-time goalie in wins behind Marty Turco, the 33-year-old Kari Lehtonen has seen his level of play gradually decline in recent years but was still forced to play 59 games in 2016-17 as injuries and ineffectiveness left the team with few other options. The front office attempted to fix the issue in the offseason by signing Ben Bishop to a six-year deal, but the former Lightning netminder is no stranger to the trainer's room himself, so Lehtonen's days of seeing a significant workload may not be completely over, even if his days of thriving on those minutes have come and gone.
Lehtonen will man the crease for two periods in Thursday's preseason matchup with Colorado, Mark Stepneski of the Stars' official site Lehtonen is primed to be the backup this season behind Ben Bishop, so this start in goal is really nothing more than a tune-up for the 33-year-old. Last year, the Finn saw action in 59 outings, but that number will be drastically reduced -- likely to about 25 -- as the No. 2 in Dallas. Coach Ken Hitchcock will utilize youngster Landon Bow for the final 20 minutes Thursday.
With Tuesday's buyout of Antti Niemi, it's now clear that Lehtonen will be the Stars' backup goaltender this season. The Stars had a problem in net with three goaltenders on one-way contracts. Lehtonen seemed like the obvious choice to be the backup behind Ben Bishop, but it wasn't clear how things would shake out. With the buyout of Niemi, it's clear Lehtonen won't be shipped out or sharing backup duties. Nonetheless, the 33-year-old posted a .902 save percentage through 59 games last year, so his fantasy value isn't high.
The Stars acquired the rights to goaltender Ben Bishop on Tuesday. It's a signal that Lehtonen won't have a starting job next season. General manager Jim Nill is signaling that the two-headed beast of Lehtonen and Antti Niemi will not be the plan next season, regardless of whether the team is able to ink Bishop to a deal. There's a strong possibility that Lehtonen is at best a backup next season after finishing 2016-17 with a .902 save percentage over 59 games.
Lehtonen will be between the pipes at home against the Avalanche on Saturday. Lehtonen has been lackluster this season, but the Avalanche are the worst team in the NHL. They are dead last in goals scored and goals allowed per game. If Lehtonen was ever going to be a good bet to have a strong performance, it'd be in this matchup.
Lehtonen was beaten five times on 26 shots in Tuesday's 7-3 home loss to the Predators. There's no doubt that Lehtonen's had his share of miserable outings this campaign, but then again, backstopping the league's worst penalty kill would put even the best netminder at a serious disadvantage. Lehtonen slammed his stick against the post after a Craig Smith shot was deflected off teammate John Klingberg and slid into the Dallas net, but the lumber didn't even break -- that's a microcosm of how things have gone for the Stars in 2016-17.
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