From the files of the Epically Epic comes Kari Lehtonen’s stop on Jordan Eberle Wednesday night.
Feast your eyes:
Yowza. The save was a microcosm of both players’ seasons so far. Eberle snakebitten, searching for answers and Lehtonen standing on his head.
Lehtonen has been a stud between the pipes for the Dallas Stars more nights than not this season. He blocks a lot of net at 6-foot-4 and 217 pounds and his 2.01 goals-against average and .932 save percentage sparkle through 13 starts.
Interestingly, Lehtonen’s play is prompting plenty of Stars fans and Twitter trolls to criticize THN for ranking him 19th among all NHL netminders in our recent Goalie Issue. There’s no denying his talent. The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle pointed me to this stat pack from Hockey Reference, which shows Lehtonen has the fifth-highest SP in the NHL among goalies with 130 or more games played in the last four seasons.
The problem has always been Lehtonen’s health. He’s regularly missed chunks of time season to season, most often with groin problems. Whenever he started to build momentum, it seemed he’d suffer another lower-body injury.
But Wednesday’s game at Edmonton marked his 10th consecutive start. For now, Lehtonen looks healthy as ever, and based on goaltenders’ tendencies to bloom late, he may just be entering his prime at 30 years old (as of this Saturday, his birthday). His surge hardly comes out of nowhere, as he always had elite pedigree as the No. 2 overall pick of the 2002 NHL draft.
Don’t be surprised if 2013-14 ends up Lehtonen’s best season yet. And keep in mind the he has extra motivation. A year ago, it appeared he had no hope of making Team Finland for the Sochi Olympics, stuck behind a ridiculously elite goalie crop of Tuukka Rask, Antti Niemi, Pekka Rinne, Niklas Backstrom and Miikka Kiprusoff. Well, Kipper retired, Backstrom’s body keeps taking a beating and Rinne is dealing with a serious hip infection. Lehtonen has just two names left to pass on the depth chart.
It’s like someone is picking off Finland’s goalies one-by-one, a-la The Bride’s Death List Five in the Kill Bill movies.
FINNISH GOALIE DEATH LIST SIX
(1) Tuukka Rask
(2) Antti Niemi
3) Pekka Rinne (4) Niklas Backstrom
(6) Kari Lehtonen
Lehtonen is climbing fast. And the way he’s played for Dallas this season, the Finns should be thrilled.