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Atlanta Thrashers At Dallas Stars: Thrashers Face Off Against First Place Dallas And Kari Lehtonen

The Dallas Stars are one of the hottest teams in the Western Conference right now. After finishing last season 37-31-14 to finish twelfth in the West (their 88 points would have had them tied for eighth place in the East), the Stars capped a disappointing season by seeing Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen, and Marty Turco ride off into the sunset. This was expected, as Modano and Lehtinen were nearing the end of their NHL careers (which of course meant Modano had to go to the Detroit Red Wings; Lehtinen retired), and Turco was wearing out his welcome in Dallas. Turco ended last season with a .913 save percentage and a 2.72 goals against average, and many fans blamed him fo allowing too many stoppable goals. Which is why, to many fans, they didn't understand how Kari Lehtonen would be an upgrade.

Lehtonen's stats with the Thrashers are unremarkable in nearly every season but one, 2006-2007, which was the year that Atlanta won the Southeast Division and made it to the playoffs. His stats with the Dallas Stars are, especially this season, on par with the year that Atlanta made the playoffs (via ESPN.com):

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Lehtonen was always a serviceable goaltender with legit flashes of brilliance along the way. Sadly, constant back and groin issues kept him out of the line-up for long stretches at a time, possibly costing Atlanta points in the standings. Last season general manager Don Waddell finally had enough, and traded the goalie to the Dallas Stars in exchange for defensive prospect Ivan Vishnevsky (who was later included in the deal that brought Andrew Ladd to Atlanta). The former second overall draft pick was seen as the successor to Turco almost immediately, and although Turco didn't leave Dallas until the end of the season, Lehtonen was going to be their new number one. 

Unfortunately, we won't have a battle of the Thrashers Goaltender Draft Picks tonight, as Chris Mason is scheduled to get the start against a familiar Western Conference opponent. While Lehtonen is 3-0-1 in his last four starts, Mason is 1-2-1, and hasn't won since December 11th against the New York Islanders. He also hasn't allowed less than three goals in regulation since the 3-2 shootout loss to Carolina on December 16th. He allowed four goals on ten shots during Toronto's 9-3 curbstomping of the Thrashers, and has not been the upgrade to former backup Johan Hedberg than many expected.

Andrew Ladd and Niclas Bergfors are both riding five game point streaks, Ladd with a goal last night and Bergfors with two assists in the 5-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. Defenseman and All-Star Tobias Enstrom is also riding a five game point streak in which he has an outstanding goal and eight assists.

Puck drop is at 8:00, and don't forget - if you're in the Kennesaw area come by Rafferty's for a viewing party with the Atlanta Thrashers fan club for some food and drink specials. With the Falcons on tonight, this might be the only place you can get the hockey game on the big screen outside of your home.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.