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Kari Lehtonen targeting next week for return

FRISCO -- Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen took another step towards returning to action, practicing with the team Thursday for the first time since injuring his groin on November 28 in a game at Phoenix.

“It was fun, but it wasn’t as easy as I was hoping,” said Lehtonen, who has missed ten games due to the injury. “Tomorrow I hope I can do a little better.”

The Stars held an optional practice Thursday and Lehtonen, who has been skating and doing goalie drills with goaltending coach Mike Valley since December 10, took shots from some of his teammates during drills.

“He was solid. There’s a big difference between going out and doing goalie drills and then all of a sudden you have guys coming at you, guys that can shoot,” said Valley. “It’s going to take three or four solid practices for him to get comfortable, but today was a good start.”

Lehtonen will get in more time on the ice Friday and then take a couple of days off as the NHL breaks for Christmas.

“I think it’s good for me.” Lehtonen said of the break. “We’ve been going pretty hard for a couple weeks now. We’ve been going pretty hard on the ice and off the ice. [Friday] I just have to get more used to those harder shots and we’ll see after Christmas where I am.”

The thought has been that Lehtonen would return sometime after the NHL’s Christmas break, and everything appears to be on schedule.

“He’s right on track,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “He’ll be a game player right after Christmas at some point and before the new year, somewhere in that six day block.”

After the Christmas break the Stars play at St. Louis on Monday December 26th, host Columbus Thursday December 29th and then play the Boston Bruins at American Airlines Center on Saturday December 31st. Gulutzan said Lehtonen’s return won’t be based on the opponent, but on the goaltender’s readiness.

“It’s going to be whenever he is ready,” Gulutzan said. “We’re not going to pick the game. He’s a great goaltender, so we don’t have to dance around any of the games. When he is ready we are going to play him.”

With the Stars not practicing the two days prior to the St. Louis game, that one would appear to be a stretch. But the Columbus game or the New Year’s Eve tilt against Boston are more realistic.

“That St. Louis game comes a little fast for me, hopefully after that,” said Lehtonen.

Notes: Robidas out for Friday

*Defenseman Stephane Robidas will miss his second straight game with a foot injury when the Stars host Nashville Friday, coach Glen Gulutzan said. Robidas, who suffered the injury in Tuesday’s practice, could return for Monday’s game at St. Louis.

*Defenseman Philip Larsen, who has missed the last two games with a charley horse, is questionable for Friday’s game.

*Gulutzan said he and his staff would decide Thursday night or Friday morning on whether to start Richard Bachman or Andrew Raycroft in Friday’s game.