Lehtonen to make conditioning start

By Guy Curtright

Staff Correspondent

The Atlanta Thrashers may have goalie Kari Lehtonen back as early as this weekend.

Lehtonen, who strained a groin muscle Oct. 16 against the New York Rangers, was activated from injured reserve Monday and assigned to the Chicago Wolves on a conditioning assignment.

The AHL team is at home for its next four games and Lehtonen is scheduled to play tonight against Quad City and Thursday against Peoria. If he shows no ill effects from his long layoff, the 24-year-old could be ready to rejoin the Thrashers on their weekend road trip rather than stay in Chicago.

Atlanta plays the New York Islanders on Saturday and New Jersey on Sunday. With back-to-back games, it could be a good time to get Lehtonen back in the lineup if he shows that he's ready.

Ondrej Pavelec has had some good games serving as Johan Hedberg's backup, going 3-3 with a 3.11 goals against average. But the 20-year-old rookie was the victim as the Thrashers (11-12-0) lost 5-0 at Pittsburgh on Saturday.

The Thrashers, who host Toronto on Thursday, have been shut out in consecutive games since shaking off their 0-6-0 start and getting back over .500. New Jersey beat Atlanta 3-0 on Friday.

Lehtonen was hurt in general manager Don Waddell's first game as interim coach after the firing of Bob Hartley. Although also a groin, the injury was different than the one that plagued the former first-round draft choice two seasons ago.

Lehtonen has a 58-43-9 career record, posting seven shutouts. He has a 2.84 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage.

Despite the back-to-back shutout losses, Ilya Kovalchuk continues to lead the NHL with 19 goals and is tied for second with 33 points. He has 29 points (16 goals and 13 assists) in 17 games with Waddell behind the bench and the team is 11-6-0 during the stretch.

SideBar: Maple Leafs at Thrashers

' When: 7 p.m. Thursday

' Where: Philips Arena

' TV/radio: SportSouth/680-AM