Kari Lehtonen fights groin injury; should the Stars find some goalie insurance?


karilehtonendrink.jpgIf you were to choose a goalie for one game, you could do worse than Kari Lehtonen. I’m not saying that he’s a premier goalie in the league at this point in his career, but he’s a big, talented netminder who fills up a lot of the net and also comes with the pedigree of being the second overall pick in a draft.

The problem with Lehtonen – something Atlanta Thrashers fans know all too well – is that he is very injury prone. Just look at the wide array of ailments that plagued the talented but troubled Finn; from back surgery to groin strains and conditioning assignments, his body seems “not right” almost as often as he’s healthy. He only played 12, 46 and 48 games in the last three seasons … and let’s not forget that Dallas is the home of delicious barbecue food, Tex-Mex cuisine and 22-oz. steaks. That’s not exactly the best environment for a guy who has a history of being in and out of shape.

Anyway, while it doesn’t sound like it’s a big deal, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports that Lehtonen already tweaked his groin in the preseason.

The big news today is that Kari Lehtonen missed practice with a groin injury and will not play Tuesday against Colorado in a pre-season start that had been previously scheduled.

Lehtonen, who has a long injury history, simply has had some soreness in the groin, and the Stars want to be cautious in their management of his health. He was great in his pre-season opener Friday with one goal allowed on 35 shots against in a 2-1 win against Colorado. However, he left practice Sunday because of the groin soreness.

Here’s coach Marc Crawford:

“He has a slight groin problem, so we are trying to nip it in the bud right now. He didn’t pull it or anything yesterday, he was was just trying to be careful with it. Today, it’s better but we just decided to push his start back so he can play the whole game on Thursday.

“We’re just trying to be smart with Kari. I believe he’ll practice tomorrow. We’ll change that if we come in tomorrow and he’s still sore.”

If all goes well, Lehtonen would play Thursday at home and then again in the final preseason game Sunday at St. Louis . Andrew Raycroft will get the start in goal, and that should be interesting, as Raycroft and Brent Krahn are battling for the backup goalie spot.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with being an optimist. It’s wise to take a glass half-full approach to many things in life. But that being said, are we sure that GM Joe Nieuwendyk properly prepared for the extremely injury prone Lehtonen? I know Andrew Raycroft put up decent numbers last year in Vancouver (he went 9-5-1 with a 91.1 save percentage), but he’s still Andrew Raycroft. I’m not totally familiar with Brent Krahn’s game, but you have to think that the team isn’t going to invest it’s season in him just yet.

So with a netminder as fragile as Lehtonen, I cannot help but wonder if Jose Theodore might be a good “Lowered Expectations” fit in Dallas. I posed this idea to Joe Yerdon last night, but if Theodore was willing to take a two-way contract with a team dealing with injury worries, he might be able to steal a top job or create a 1a/1b situation. It wouldn’t be the ideal situation for Theodore, but being without an NHL job isn’t exactly a dream scenario either.

Considering Lehtonen’s frequent trips to the IR, the Stars might want to come up with a Plan B.

Kyle Connor expected to be healthy scratch for Jets

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23:  Goalie Cam Talbot #33 of the Edmonton Oilers pushes Kyle Connor #81 of the Winnipeg Jets  during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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Jets rookie Kyle Connor played just 10:09 in Sunday’s outdoor loss to the Oilers, and tonight in Dallas it appears he’ll be a healthy scratch for the first time in his NHL career.

Connor was not among the 12 Winnipeg forwards taking line rushes this morning. The 19-year-old has just one assist in his first five games as a Jet. He’s a minus-5 and has also struggled in terms of possession, as evidenced by his 38 percent Corsi.

The 17th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Connor spent one year at the University of Michigan before leaving school to turn pro. He’s eligible to be sent to the AHL this season, something the Jets are no doubt considering.

Winnipeg has a number of potential call-ups on its farm club, including Marko Dano, Quinton Howden, Andrew Copp, Nicolas Petan, and Jack Roslovic.

Babcock’s had his fill of goalie questions, thanks

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26:  Head coach Mike Babcock of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on prior to the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Mike Babcock is aware Toronto’s goaltending hasn’t been good this season.

He’s also aware that Toronto’s goaltending hasn’t been good the last few seasons.

Thing is, he doesn’t want to talk about it.

“It’s five games in, isn’t it?” Babcock replied on Tuesday, when asked about the Leafs’ shaky netminding so far, specifically the play of Frederik Andersen. “Let’s just take a deep breath here.”

And here’s a transcript of what followed (courtesy Sportsnet)!

Reporter: The guy on Saturday night said the Leafs goaltending has been lousy this year.

Babcock: Who did?

Reporter: The guy on Saturday night — Don Cherry.

Babcock: Oh, OK. Well now that I know where I’m getting my facts from, here we go. Come on. Let’s move on. What’s next here? Holy [expletive].

Reporter: No, but seriously, it’s been an issue for this market probably since Ed Belfour left, and I’m wondering if there’s anything to that.

Babcock: But I’m not dealing with that. This is what I would tell you. We think we have a really good goaltender. At the World Cup I had three outstanding goaltenders, and they all talked about how much time it usually takes to get ready.

Our guy didn’t have that opportunity because of his injury. We’re real comfortable with him. Do we think he’s played as good as he’s capable of playing? No. Do we think he’s going to? Yes.

Babcock’s right to suggest it’s too early to start grading Andersen. First, there’s the adjustment from playing behind a good team in a small market (Anaheim) to playing behind a “growing team” in a massive, pressure-packed market like Toronto.

There’s also the additional pressure that came with Andersen’s acquisition price (a first- and second-round pick) and his subsequent contract extension (five years, $25 million).

The injury suffered playing for Denmark in Olympic qualifying was definitely a setback, as there’s no doubt some games for Team Europe at the World Cup of Hockey would’ve better prepared Andersen for the season.

Still, it’s hard to look at his numbers — 1-0-3, .879 save percentage, 3.63 GAA — and not be at least a little concerned.

Unless you’re Mike Babcock, that is.

Related: The list of struggling netminders is a long one, as it’s been goals galore to start the year

Elliott gets the start in return to St. Louis

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 24: Matt Stajan #18 and Lance Bouma #17 of the Calgary Flames congratulate Brian Elliott #1 after a shootout win against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on October 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Flames defeated the Blachawks 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Brian Elliott will be in Calgary’s crease against his old team tonight in St. Louis.

Even though Elliott played last night in Chicago, it was an easy decision for Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan. Elliott had easily his best game of the season against the Blackhawks, stopping 31 of 33 shots in a 3-2 shootout victory. The 31-year-old turned away all seven Chicago shooters in the breakaway competition, helping the Flames to just their second win of the young season.

“I definitely wanted that one,” Elliott told reporters afterwards. “We haven’t been playing like we wanted to and the guys came out and had a heck of an effort.”

Elliott started 164 games for the Blues during his five years in St. Louis. Last season, he backstopped them to their first conference final since 2001. He was then traded to Calgary in June, paving the way for Jake Allen to become the full-time starter in St. Louis.

Related: The list of struggling goalies is a long one

Crosby on track to make season debut tonight

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 30: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins waits for a face-off against the 
New Jersey Devils during the third period at the Prudential Center on January 30, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
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Yesterday, Sidney Crosby participated in a full-contact practice.

Today, it appears he’ll make his season debut when the Penguins host the Panthers tonight in Pittsburgh.

“He had a strong practice this morning,” head coach Mike Sullivan said, per the club. “Everything is pointing in the right direction. If he’s comfortable, he could play.”

Crosby has missed just six games due to the concussion he sustained during practice on Oct. 7. Given his history with concussions, if he plays tonight, it has to be considered a best-case scenario. Certainly, there had been fear he could be out much longer.

For the record, Crosby told reporters he’ll be a game-time decision.