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.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”