Back around the mid-point of the season, I gave Kari Lehtonen a failing grade on the Thrashers’ mid-season report card. At the time he was 5-11-2 with a .900 SV% and 3.41 GAA with one shutout on the season. He was also coming off of an injury that kept him on the shelf for 21 games.
A lot of you thought I was being quite harsh on him with my grade. However, I was judging him not only on the numbers but the overall performance of the job. Kari was not brought here to be a backup…or even to simply compete for the top job. He was selected with the second overall pick in 2002 to be “The Man” between the pipes.
That sorta job you either pass or fail in most cases.
Also, the reason for the “F” was because I felt if he was indeed playing for his future with the Thrashers…given last summer’s one-year contract…those numbers and yet another injury wasn’t going to get it done for him. He was failing in proving once and for all that the #1 job in the ATL would continue to be his.
So, I believe that grade was the corect onem at that time.
Key words being…”at that time”.
Since mid-January, Kari has gone 13-9-1. Placing those numbers into some perspective, that type of record played over…say…a 55 start season would run out to something like 31-21-3. A team that plays an entire season at a clip of 13-9-1 would finish the year with 96 points.
Kari has added two more shutouts to the total, his GAA has dipped below three for the first time all season and now sits at 2.94 and the SV% has risen to .915…which is just one point off of his career high for a full season. Lehtonen has won his last five starts, six of his last seven and seven of his last nine. During that time, he has a 2.22 GAA and a .937 SV%.
During his 5-game win streak, Lehts has stopped 170 of the 176 he’s faced, a .966 SV% and he’s posted a 1.64 GAA. Monday night’s 49 save on 50 shot performance was a thing of beauty that we will all not soon forget.
In short, Lehtonen has performed in the manner that justifies the faith and hope placed in him by this franchise by selecting him with that precious second overall pick seven years ago.
Going back to my post on January 11…I summarized my comments by saying “If the first half of the season is indicative of what is to come, the Kari Lehtonen era in Atlanta is but months…if not weeks…away from being officially over”.
I happy to now be able to say that, indeed, the first half was definately not a foreshadowing of what was to come…the the past two months has seen him play at his best level yet and because of it, I would say that Kari Lehtonen has taken full and total control of the top goalie status for the Atlanta Thrashers.
He may very well have also earned something more than another one-year deal this coming summer.