21 October 2007

AJC: Lehtonen hurt but confident

Groin injury puts Thrashers top goaltender on IR

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 10/20/07

More than anything, Kari Lehtonen just wanted play to stop. He had just overextended his leg, trying to make a kick save during the first period of Thursday night's win over the Rangers. That's when he felt the pain.

"It just snapped," he said, referring to a pain in his upper leg. He thought he would try to get through one more shift, to see if he could play through it. The Rangers were on a power play, and the action turned out to be non-stop.

"I was praying for a whistle," he said, realizing shortly into the power play that he shouldn't be on the ice. "But that never came."

In all, he played more than two minutes in pain, making multiple saves to help preserve an early Thrashers lead.

At one point, after the Thrashers cleared the puck down the ice, he considered moving the net to get a whistle.

"Then I realized, we'd get a penalty, and I didn't want to put Moose [Hedberg] in there on a 5-on-3," Lehtonen explained.

So he toughed it out before finally covering the puck to stop play. And that was it. He skated off the ice for what could be an extended time off, and on Friday morning Lehtonen had an MRI exam to assess the extent of the injury.

It's not the same groin problem that sidelined him in training camp. This injury is lower down, more like an upper-leg injury.

Either way it's painful, but not unbearable.

"It's OK to walk and do desk work, but not to be a hockey goalie right now," Lehtonen explained.

In the meantime, the Thrashers called up Ondrej Pavelec from the AHL to back up Johan Hedberg. Pavelec was 2-0 with a 1.49 goals-against average for the Wolves. He's widely considered the Thrashers' top prospect and had a strong training camp before being sent down to Chicago right before the season started.

The team will have a better idea about a timetable for Lehtonen's return after the MRI results are examined this weekend.

"This isn't going to be something where we're going to see him in the next week or so," general manager and interim coach Don Waddell said.

In the meantime, Waddell said he is relieved to have a proven backup in Johan Hedberg and also plans to get Pavelec some work.

"It might be an opportunity for [Pavelec]," Waddell said. "When you watch him as a general manager, and now a coach, he gives you confidence. He always looks in position when he makes saves. He makes saves look easy. To me, when I watch a goalie, I like that."

The injury comes at a bad time for Lehtonen, who struggled to start the season. He is 0-4, with a 4.49 goals-against average and is 0-6 in his past seven starts dating to the playoffs. Hedberg got the win against the Rangers, but Lehtonen looked sharp, stopping all nine shots he faced.

If there's a silver lining to the injury, it is that it came while Lehtonen was playing well. He admitted his confidence was shaky after the slow start and could feel a turnaround coming against the Rangers.

"I would be devastated if it would have happened during the New Jersey game [a 6-5 loss] or something like that," Lehtonen said. "[The Rangers game] gave me so much positive energy, and I started to believe again that I can do this job very well."

Lehtonen was placed on the injured reserve to create a roster spot for Pavelec.

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