Kari Lehtonen was once considered to be a cornerstone for the Atlanta Thrashers. He's now instead playing that role for the Pacific Division-leading Dallas Stars.
Lehtonen is expected to be in net against his former team for the first time Saturday night as the Stars attempt to continue their dominance of the Thrashers.
Drafted second overall by Atlanta (22-17-7) in 2002, Lehtonen holds most of the team's goaltending records, winning 94 games with 14 shutouts over five seasons while his 34 victories during 2006-07 are a single-season high. That was also the only season the Thrashers reached the playoffs.
Various injuries forced him to miss considerable time during his stay in Atlanta, including back surgery that sidelined him for 57 games last season.
That didn't deter the Stars (26-13-5) from acquiring him in a trade while he was still recovering in February, as they searched for a replacement for aging Marty Turco. Lehtonen went 6-4-0 with a 2.81 goals-against average in 12 games as Dallas missed the playoffs in 2009-10 before becoming the unquestioned starter after Turco's departure via free agency.
The move has paid off for Dallas with goaltending among the biggest reasons for the team's position atop the Pacific.
Lehtonen is 18-10-5 with a 2.59 GAA while starting 33 of 44 games and staying relatively healthy. A back injury kept him out four games last month.
He seems to have moved past that injury, going 3-0-1 with a 1.96 GAA in his last four starts.
Lehtonen continued his strong stretch Tuesday, making 39 saves in a 3-2 win over Edmonton as the Stars completed a stretch of five games in nine days with a 4-0-1 mark.
A three-day layoff appears to have Lehtonen refreshed for his first game against his former club.
"It's definitely a rest for your mind," Lehtonen told the team's official website. "Games are tougher for your mind, you have to be ready all the time. (The layoff is) a good thing to have and I think it makes everybody more fresher once we start playing again."
The Stars are 10-1-1 against Atlanta, winning five of six in Dallas. They lost 6-5 in overtime on the road Dec. 17, 2009, in the lone meeting last season.
James Neal, tied with Loui Eriksson for second on the team with 16 goals, has three goals in five games after going 10 without one. He's found the net in each of the last two games, including the go-ahead tally midway through the third period Tuesday.
Neal hasn't scored in two games against the Thrashers.
Atlanta will try to avoid matching a season-high four-game losing streak after falling 5-2 to visiting Philadelphia on Friday night.
"We are a good team and we know that," Atlanta's Chris Thorburn said. "The effort was there, and it's kind of a letdown when we don't come away with two points, but there were a lot of good things that happened out there. Just a couple of breakdowns."
The Thrashers have struggled defensively during the skid, giving up 18 goals. Ondrej Pavelec has started all three games (0-2-1) with a 5.01 GAA while getting pulled once.
Atlanta captain Andrew Ladd has three goals and three assists during a five-game scoring streak after going six games without a point.