Has there ever been a more boring start to an NHL off-season than this one? Granted, the free-agent pool might not be as deep as it has been in years past, and is only going to keep on getting thinner due to all of these mega-deals, but still, there are enough names out there for this to have been a pretty exciting few weeks in July. It’s funny that when Ryan Suter and Zach Parise actually signed, aside from the initial, “Wow! Minnesota got both!” reaction, the excitement was limited, and people stopped talking about it within two days. Now if Parise had gone to the Rangers, Flyers, or Penguins, and Suter to the Red Wings, not only would we still be talking about it, but suicide hotline workers would be raking in overtime cash.
It’s fitting that the last Rangers home game before Halloween ended the way it did. The team that made it their mantra to improve home ice play this season now falls to 1-3-1 on Madison Square Garden ice. But once again, the Rangers got a good showing from their offense, only to have their defense act out a script written by Wes Craven.
In a game where Henrik Lundqvist stood on his head, the Rangers defenseman in front of him could not help but stand by like spectators as Erik Cole plopped one into the net on the powerplay for the game winning goal with just under four minutes remaining in the third period. Tonight’s game was a microcosm of an already young season—the team that was supposed to have all defense and goaltending is showing all offense and no defense, while leaving their abused star goaltender hung out to dry. Lundqvist was run repeatedly, with no toughness to derail any of it. He also made save after save, some making me feel pains in my groin after watching him stretch. Where there was a rebound, there was a Hurricane to collect it, not a Blueshirt to swipe it away.
The Hurricanes got on the board first in the opening frame, when Tuomo Ruutu lifted the puck over the pad of an outstretched Lundqvist off a brilliant pass by Anton Babchuk. This came after Lundqvist made multiple marquee stops, including one on that very play whose rebound was allowed to be shot in. On the other end of the rink, Cam Ward himself was excellent in goal. The final score would not be indicative to how these goaltenders played.
Carolina would score their second of the game less that a minute into the second period, by Jeff Skinner. Trailing 2-0, the Rangers would then hunker down and respond to tie the score. Ryan Callahan scored a little more than three minutes later on assists from Anisimov and Rozsival on the powerplay. With eight minutes remaining, Marc Staal would tie the game after he was hit with a great pass from Christensen. Frolov would get a secondary on the play, the only few seconds he bothered to show up tonight, except when he was robbed blind by Ward midway through the first.
But less than a minute after the Rangers tied the score, Skinner would strike again on a mini breakaway. The Rangers would show some resilience, though, as two minutes later Brandon Dubinsky added his fifth of the year. He now leads the team in goals and points and has been the team’s best forward in Gaborik’s absence. The Rangers also hit two posts, one in the first and one in the second.
With the game tied at three heading into the third, the sloppy defense continued. With less than six minutes to go, a penalty would cost the Rangers a goal again. With Boyle off for boarding, Erik Cole would park himself in the crease and net the game winner, sending the Rangers home with another disappointing loss.
On a good note, Henrik Lundqvist had a stellar night in net and the line of Fedotenko, Avery, and Boyle, “The FAB Three” continued to be very rugged and created chances. Michal Rozsival also had a strong game and Erik Christensen finally looked comfortable in the lineup. But all of this is small consolation for a team that has so many little things wrong with it, that it is hard to pin-point—every night it appears to be something new.
Steve Eminger also took another bad penalty tonight , giving reason after reason as to why he should not be on this team, or at least having priority playing time while the youngster Sauer sits.
The Rangers will now head up to Toronto tomorrow night where they will face the Maple Leafs for a third time this season. Tortorella may have been considering playing Biron in that game, but with the way this defense has been, if the Rangers want to have any chance at all to win, they will have to play Lundqvist.
In the last few seasons, goalies in the NHL have prided themselves in playing as many games as they can possibly play. It is almost like a competition it itself, to see who can become the Iron-Man of goaltenders. Martin Brodeur, in his older age, continues to play well over seventy games, and Grant Fuhr set the record when he played in seventy-nine, back in 1995/96 for the St. Louis Blues.
But there is a pattern in all of this, that extends into the post-season, and that is, goalies who play less games during the regular season go farther in the playoffs. It sounds simple doesn’t it? Sounds like pure common sense: play less games, become more rested, achieve a greater durability. But unfortunately, goaltenders do not care about this; they want to play and win as much as they possibly can.
But what good are regular season wins if you are a failure in the playoffs?
Take Chris Osgood of the Red Wings for example. He is a mediocre regular season goalie, and sometimes even ends up losing the starting job and playing less games. But come playoff time, he is a completely different player. It is as if he elevates his consciousness to another universe.
Osgood is one of the very few goaltenders around the league who actually “get it”. Regular seasons wins are all fine and dandy, but when a career is finished, rings on your fingers are more important than wins. Take a look at the last decade, at the goaltenders who have won Stanley Cups. See if you can spot a trend in their amount of games played:
2008/09: Marc Andre Fleury: 62
2007/08: Chris Osgood: 43
2006/07: J.S Giguere: 53
2005/06: Cam Ward: 28
2003/04: Nikolai Khabibulin: 55
2002/03: Martin Brodeur: 73
2001/02: Dominic Hasek: 65
2000/01: Patrick Roy 61
1999/00: Martin Brodeur: 72
1998/99: Ed Belfour: 61
If you notice, in the last decade, Martin Brodeur is the only goaltender to play more than seventy games during the season and win the Stanley Cup, and unfortunately, that can be attributed to him playing behind a defensive trap, facing a minimal amount of shots per game.
For the other goaltenders, whether it be due to an injury, a late season call-up, or just getting rest, they have all played less than sixty-five games. Because of this extra time off, they are better prepared for the playoffs, which we can all agree on, is a different animal because of such a high intensity. Goaltenders themselves are the culprit for this, and who can blame them? If any of us made professional sports we would want to be in every game we could possibly play in. But the goalies have to look at the bigger picture, and take one for the team, and sit out some extra games.
For the team I cover, the New York Rangers, coach John Tortorella promised that Henrik Lundqvist would not play as many games as he had in the past. Unfortunately, due to a revolving door of backups that extended to the end of the season, this could not be accomplished, and Lundqvist played in a career high 73 games. The Rangers had a porous defense, and Lundqvist was under siege in almost every game, but he carried the load and brought the team to within a point of the playoffs. But let’s just say the Rangers ended up making it, how many rounds could he have played in? He would have been absolutely dead by the second round, if the Rangers would have hypothetically advanced to it. Tell me again how playing in so many games is good for a team.
All the blame cannot be placed on the shoulders of the goalies, however, because the salary cap has a lot to do with it. In this day and age, general managers have to be careful where they put their money. After paying $5-7 million for a number one goalie, no one wants to go out and throw millions at a backup. So they instead sign a goalie making under a million, someone who cannot be trusted in big games, or to carry a workload. And if a backup cannot be trusted, than he will not play. Thus, the number one goalies workload goes up.
It is because of this, that I propose that when the CBA is up for discussion and amendment after next season, the NHL should not allow goaltender’s salaries to count against the cap. If a team wants to spend $10 million on two goalies, then by all means, let them if they can afford it, and do not penalize them by forcing them to look at the cap.
Similar discussions have come up alleging that a “franchise player clause” will be instituted, allow the franchise to pick one player whose salary will not count against the cap. To me, allowing teams to save money in another way, in the goaltending way, would make much more sense because it would be a lot more fair.Either way, small market teams will further be hurt by a clause of any kind, because salary caps are not the issue—payroll is. But by placing the relief with a goaltender, it will seem fair, and I doubt teams will complain about it as much.
It may seem like a drastic proposition, as people are very touchy when it comes to discussing the salary cap and CBA. But I think it could get enough support, if voiced by someone on a higher level. Allowing teams to have a better backup will allow the starter to be at the top of his game, and when that happens, the NHL playoffs will be even more exciting than they are now.