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Can Kari Lehtonen continue to carry the Stars?

Oct 22, 2011, 2:09 AM EDT

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Dallas Stars v Anaheim Ducks Getty Images

Kari Lehtonen looked great at times last season, but 2011-12 might be the year that he truly shows why he was drafted second overall in 2002. The Finnish goalie made the difference for the Dallas Stars once again Friday night, as they beat an almost-as-hot Anaheim Ducks team 3-1.

Lehtonen is 6-0 so far this season, but it’s the workload he’s carrying that really makes his results impressive. Aside from the Columbus Blue Jacket’s dismal efforts, Lehtonen has faced at least 36 shots in every start. He’s been up to the task to a staggering degree, though, allowing just nine goals.

Naturally, the burning question is whether he can keep it up. He has the pedigree to do so, but two worrisome factors cannot be ignored.

Injuries

Stars fans might grumble at this one, but there was a time when Lehtonen was the Southeast Rick DiPietro: a highly drafted and occasionally promising goalie whose career was riddled with injuries. He was limited to 12 games in 2009-10 and less than 50 in 08-09 and 07-08. Hopefully Lehtonen is over those woes, but the injury risks are legitimate if he continues to face 35+ shots per night and flirts with 70 starts.

Shaky defense

Sheldon Souray has been an amazing story so far. He went from a guy whose contract left him buried in the AHL to a solid offensive contributor out of the gate (five points in seven games).

Souray doesn’t heal many own-zone wounds, though. Lehtonen’s dazzling .957 save percentage is bound to drop, so Dallas’ D needs to tighten up. They might not have the personnel to do that, though.

***

There are a number of factors working against Lehtonen and the Stars, but his talent shouldn’t be denied. We’ll see if that’s enough to clear some serious hurdles this season.

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