So, remember when last Tuesday’s game between the Dallas Stars and Montreal Canadiens was supposed to be about Benn vs. Benn?
In the first head-to-head meeting between brothers Jamie and Jordie Benn, the goalies stole the show for the first 40 minutes.
It was surprising on a couple levels.
Carey Price, who made 27 saves, was supposed to have the night off but Al Montoya suffered an injury during morning skate. Kari Lehtonen has been good lately and had been recently named the NHL’s second star of the week, but there’s been the underlying expectation that he’d tail off at some point.
And in the third period of that loss, Lehtonen did let up three goals. He could have done a couple things differently on each of them, but for the most part he was left out to dry by the defense.
It wasn’t his fault the Stars lost, but it did scrap this column at that time.
Four days later, Lehtonen posted a 25-save shutout as the Stars ended the Carolina Hurricanes 13-game point streak on Saturday. It was a 3-0 final, but you should treat it as a 1-0 victory for Lehtonen after Dallas tacked on a pair of empty-net goals.
That performance and the first two periods against Montreal, added more credence to an idea that seemed like lunacy earlier this season -- perhaps Lehtonen should still be a Star next season.
The Stars will have to do something about their goaltenders in the offseason. The team can’t enter next season with the same tandem in goal, and, with the expansion draft shuffling depth charts, it’s the perfect time to make a move.
Antti Niemi seems like an obvious choice to be bought out of the final year of his contract. While Niemi was sharp at home earlier in the season, his season has devolved into a combination of sporadic blown starts and short outings.
Lehtonen, however, could be a valuable asset for the Stars next season in a backup role. Whether it’s Scott Darling, Philipp Grubauer, or another young, ready-to-start goalie, Lehtonen would be the ideal one-year stop-gap as a backup goalie playing 20 to 25 games next season and avoiding back-to-back starts.
This week was a perfect example of that. With a back-up’s work load, Lehtonen can look like one of the NHL’s better goalies. But as starts start to pile up, he seems bound to hit a valley in his performance.
And buying out both goalies is an extreme measure, while trading Lehtonen and his $5.9 million contract is close to impossible. So allowing the 33-year-old to transition to a backup role could be the perfect happy medium.
Ideally it would also give the Stars a year to figure out the long-term back-up for Grubauer (at least hopefully it’s Grubauer), and allow Landon Bow to grow into an NHL back-up in time for the 2018-19 season.
Follow Sean Shapiro on Twitter @SeanShapiro.
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