Asking around the Dallas Stars dressing room, it doesn't take long for goaltender Kari Lehtonen's name to come up as the reason for their early season success.
The 6-foot-4 Finn has been one of the league's best netminders through the first quarter of the season, posting a 13-4-0 record – good for the league lead in wins – and .928 save percentage that is ninth best among goalies with more than 10 games played.
Lehtonen wasn't made available to talk prior to Friday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but his teammates and coaches had plenty of praise for his play.
"He's been our anchor," Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. "Of all of our players, night in and night out, he's giving us a chance to win ... We're not here if we don't have Kari. He's been that important to us."
"He's been saving us a lot of times this year," added Loui Eriksson. "I think that's what we expect from him now, too."
On paper, it'll be quite a mismatch in goal, as the Leafs' Jonas Gustavsson has struggled to stay in the net at times and has only an .899 save percentage that has him near the bottom of the league.
The good news for Toronto, however, is that the man known as The Monster – who chose to sign with the Leafs over the Stars back in 2009 – has been trending up.
In November, Gustavsson is 3-1-0 with a .915 save percentage, with his last two starts two of his better performances in his career.
- The Leafs are going with the exact same lineup as they had against the Lightning, so don't expect any surprises there. The Stars, meanwhile, will be without Brenden Morrow, who's having back problems and needs an injection to settle things down there.
- The Stars have been shorthanded an awful lot this season, so with Toronto's power play currently one of the best in the league, that could be a major factor in the game.
- Leafs coach Ron Wilson on his game plan against the Stars: "We've faced a lot of teams like this this year. We've just got to move the puck quickly, not stickhandle in tight situations and keep advancing the puck, getting it in behind their defence ... The idea is to get the puck going north as quickly as possible."
- Gulutzan on his team's game plan: "We have to make sure we're cycling and making them play in their own zone so they're not flying around all the time. That's really about winning the bluelines and creating a grind game. Not playing from behind."
- Wilson on Tyler Bozak playing with Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul: "He's played very well. The line's clicking and we're winning so there's no point in changing. It's not who we or anybody else has designated as the top centreman should be. Right now you're looking for balance and contributions from everybody. I like the way we're balanced right now, even considering all the injuries right now."
- More Wilson on Bozak, this time on his defensive struggles last season: "He's a golfer. And when you have the worst plus-minus on your team you get the Masters green jacket. He won the tournament by a long shot last year and he doesn't want to do that anymore. He'd rather put the jacket on somebody else. He's worked hard."
- Mike Brown went on injured reserve with his groin still bother him, but the Leafs won't call anyone up. Mikhail Grabovski is likely to return to the lineup come Wednesday's home game against Boston.
- Korbinian Holzer, the extra defenceman called up for the road trip, probably won't get in to any game action.