IIHF delve into potential Olympic goaltenders; Snub Lehtonen
Following a tough loss to the New York Rangers Thursday night, Kari Lehtonen received another slap in the face Friday morning. The IIHF, governing body of international hockey, released their preliminary look at eligible goaltenders for each country participating in the 2014 Olympics, being held in Sochi, Russia. Whether intentionally, or by egregious oversight, the IIHF neglected to include Stars' star netminder, Kari Lehtonen:
The Finns will go into Sochi with arguably the world’s best goaltending trio. They have three of the top goalies in the world right now in Tuukka Rask, Antti Niemi, and Pekka Rinne; so they will be set in goal with whoever they choose as their netminder going forward. I think that this will be Rinne’s time to shine at the international level, although he did struggle late with Nashville last season, he was playing through an injury and recently had a successful hip surgery procedure, so I expect him to be at his best come Olympic season. The mysterious Antti Raanta, who dominated the SM-Liiga last season, could also be an option for the Finnish Lions. This year Raanta signed with the Chicago Blackhawks, so it will be interesting to see what he can do in North America as he has just been called up to the team to fill in for an injured Nikolai Khabibulin.
This would be Lehtonen's first opportunity to actually participate in the games; he missed both the 2006 games in Torino and 2010 games in Vancouver because of injury. In 2006, he got as far as to have his roster photo taken for the Torino games. Finland went on to win silver, and bronze, respectively.
On June 25 2013, returning Finland coach Erkka Westerlund named 54 candidates for his roster, including Lehtonen. While it's possible that Kari may elect to opt out of the games, the oversight of not including him in the review is insulting.
Other goaltenders named as candidates, but left out of the IIHF review were Niklas Bäckström (MIN), Karri Rämö (CGY), and Petri Vehanen (Lev Praha, KHL).
As Finland has an embarrassment of riches in net, they have historically used several goaltenders in international play, usually rotating them on a game-by-game basis in round robin play, then narrowing the selection to one or two netminders in the final rounds. It's absurd to imagine that Lehtonen would not be one of the goalies to play during the qualifying rounds, let alone medal games.
Lehtonen is putting up a solid performance this season, with 2.08 goals-against-average, and a .931 save percentage. In those categories (vs his countrymen), he is second only to Tuukka Rask (BOS), who is enjoying a GAA of 1.95 and SV% of .945. Lehtonen also has 2 assists this season, as does Antti Niemi (SJS). Compared to all starting goaltenders in the league, Lehtonen is 6th in GAA, and 7th in SV%,
If Kari continues to maintain his excellent numbers - difficult on a team where the defence needs shoring, but an area where he excels - Stars fans can look forward to him donning a jersey for Suomi come February.