Henrik Lundqvist and Rangers Playing without a Safety Net

S BCorrespondent IJanuary 29, 2010

Watching the recent struggles of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, including Wednesday's brutal loss to the Hurricanes, one cannot help but wonder how the Rangers would look if Lundqvist weren't Lundqvist.

What if this recent bout of soft goals (Lundqvist has a 5.73 goals against and .805 save percentage in his last three games) weren't an anomaly, but instead a regular occurrence?

For that matter, where would the Rangers be without Lundqvist at all? What if he were injured?

Do the Rangers have a goalie plan?

In a word, no.

The Rangers, already starved for offense and utterly dependent upon Lundqvist, have no Plan B. They have no safety net. Instead, the team's most important player has no understudy.

The Rangers started the season with Steve Valiquette as a backup, but he was waived and sent down to the AHL after just six games, the last one being an 8-3 loss to the Penguins in which Valiquette got charged with all eight goals.

With Valiquette gone, the Rangers have rotated in Chad Johnson and Matt Zaba, both AHL goalies. Zaba has played one NHL game, and Johnson has played just three, and neither has played well enough to make anyone think Lundqvist is disposable, though admittedly it's a small sample of games to work with.

The Rangers also have goalie Scott Stajcer in their farm system, but it seems he's still too raw to be considered a Lundqvist alternative.

If you look at the Rangers' recent history, Lundqvist is really a tremendously lucky find. He joined them in 2005, ostensibly to be the backup to Kevin Weekes, but ended up wrestling the starting job out of Weekes' gloves.

But prior to that, the Rangers struggled with goalies like Mike Dunham and Jussi Markkanen.

And back in the 2002-03 season, goalie Mike Richter went down and the Rangers rode up-and-coming goaltending prospect Dan Blackburn to ruin. They played him endlessly before he was ready for the NHL, the whole thing finally ending with Blackburn injuring his shoulder prior to training camp in 2003, ending a once promising career.

So given the Rangers' recent history of horrible goaltending and Lundqvist's insane workload, coupled with the Olympics right around the corner, you can understand if Ranger fans are a little nervous that the only thing that works on their team might be vulnerable to breaking.

Further compounding a tough situation, the Rangers don't have very much cap space and have a lot of pressing roster issues to correct, so a backup goaltender probably isn't a priority. And it probably won't be until the Rangers find themselves without Lundqvist.

The Islanders have goalie Martin Biron available, but it seems unlikely that two Atlantic division rivals would help each other out. Plus, the Isles are still waiting to make sure goalie Rick DiPietro stays healthy.

The Flyers, another Atlantic rival, also have a spare goalie in Brian Boucher, but he's not much of an upgrade over Johnson or Zaba.

Dallas is rumored to be finally cutting ties with goalie Marty Turco, but he's expensive and doesn't want to be a backup.

Montreal will soon have to make some goaltending decisions, but either Carey Price or Jaroslav Halak might require too steep a price. Plus, like Turco, neither is interested in being a backup.

Tampa has two strong goalies in Antero Niittymaki and Mike Smith, but the team seems to like the flexibility and safety of a two-goalie model.

In fact, most NHL teams like that model. It's just the Rangers who seem to prefer putting all of their eggs in one basket.


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