While Dallas Stars' masked man Kari Lehtonen may not have the pedigree of any of the above mentioned goaltenders, he is still one of the most talented goaltenders in the league today. He had a solid regular season and for the first time since the 2007-08 season, Lehtonen has the team in the playoffs.
This season ended up being one of Lehtonen's best in his career. In 65 games, Lehtonen went 33-20-10 with a 2.41 goals against average (lowest in his career), a .919 save percentage (second highest in his career) and five shutouts (most in his career).
There are several reasons why Lehtonen was able to have a successful regular season this year. For starters, he was healthy.
In the beginning of his career, it always seemed like Lehtonen was dealing with an injury. Whether it was his groin, a sprained ankle, or even concussions, Lehtonen found himself off the ice a lot while he was a member of the Atlanta Thrashers.
This season, Lehtonen has been healthy and because of that, started the majority of the games. When he is healthy, Lehtonen is an extremely tough goaltender to beat.
Another reason for Lehtonen's success this year is because of the faith that team head coach Lindy Ruff has shown in him. There were some games this year when Lehtonen did not get off to a great start, but nevetheless, Ruff stuck with him and in the end, usually ended up being rewarded for sticking with Lehtonen.
In speaking with Stars' beat writer Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News a week or so ago, Ruff said that Lehtonen was doing a much better job this season of letting the puck hit him and being out on top of his crease when he needs to be.
Speaking of coaching, Stars' goaltending coach Mike Valley has also been instrumental in helping Lehtonen to shine this season. He has helped Lehtonen to read the game better while also helping Lehtonen implement a style where in addition to relying on his reflexes and athletic ability to stop the puck, Lehtonen must also rely on his positioning and consistency between the pipes in order to play well.
"That is a big part of it for a goaltender, that when you can't see it, just trying to make yourself big and keep yourself in the lane," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "But I think it's calculated percentages. He's being aggressive when he needs to be, and he's putting the numbers in his favor."
Lastly, Lehtonen has had success this season because he really is an extremely talented goaltender. Lehtonen is quick on his feet, does a good job of putting pucks into the corners, has been able to come up with the big save when his team needs him the most and he never gives up on a play.
This season, Lehtonen has also learned not to overthink the game and instead, is now letting the game come to him. Instead of constantly worrying about his positioning or about a play that happened in the past, Lehtonen told Heika that he is relying on his instincts and just going with the flow of the game.
With the playoffs beginning in the upcoming week, the Stars will be in a good position to compete for the Cup because they have Lehtonen as their main man between the pipes.
"I just think you work all year and you think about 'Do I come out further? Do I change my angle? Do I read how a play is developing?'" Lehtonen said. "Then, when you get to this point, I think you just stop thinking so much and react, and just let things happen."