WILL SWEDEN’S (AND HENRIK LUNDQVIST’S) EARLY OLYMPIC EXIT HELP THE NEW YORK RANGERS?

                                                                                          Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

Was it a blessing in disguise that defending Olympic champ Sweden, with star Ranger goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, got knocked out before the medal round, giving The King an extra four days of rest?

It says here: absolutely.

WHAT HAPPENED IN 2005-2006?

Back then, Sweden went all the way to win the gold medal in Turin. Lundqvist played in some high pressure, high intensity games, bringing home the gold to his native country. While many players were in the Olympics, the goalie on the gold medal-winning team (along with the silver medal goalie, see Ryan Miller this year, for example) must have the most pressure and the most wear and tear of all participants.

WERE THE RANGERS HURT BY THE 2006 OLYMPICS?

While there was a big debate in New York at the time as to whether the Olympics hurt The King and, thus, the Rangers, it seemed pretty clear to this writer that it had a negative impact on the Rangers. Pre-Olympics, the Rangers were a very good team. Post-Olympics, they became a sub-.500 team, struggled mightily at the end of the regular season (losing their last five) and then, as a 100-point team (but remember, in the new NHL, 100-point teams ain’t what they used to be, see Kallas Remarks, 12/7/08), were swept in the first round by the Devils.

In 2005-2006, Lundqvist only played 53 games as a Ranger. Since then, he’s played 70 or more, not a good sign for anyone not named Martin Brodeur (and maybe not a good sign anymore for future Hall of Famer Brodeur, who is down a notch last year and this despite setting all of those records (see, for example, the Olympics, where he was benched in favor of Roberto Luongo, who many in Canada thought should have been the number one goalie for Canada from the get-go. After a poor showing against the U.S. in that early 5-3 loss, Brodeur went to the bench and watched from it as Canada won the gold, including a 3-2 OT thriller in the gold medal game over the U.S.)).

This season, with 20 games in the final 41 days (another Olympic-caused problem, the tighter NHL schedule), Lundqvist will get very little rest as the Rangers are battling for the final playoff spots and are not in a playoff spot as of today. Or, if he does get rest, that will hurt the Rangers no matter who their backup goaltender is. The King is on schedule to play about 70 games again (before the playoffs and not counting the Olympics).

And that’s not a good thing.

WHAT ABOUT MARIAN GABORIK?

Well, Gaborik playing in the Olympics isn’t working out too well for the Rangers, is it? Gaborik, who had been injury-prone with Minnesota (17 games last season, 48 games in 2006-2007), has the Rangers holding their collective breath every time something happens. He was injured before the Olympic break, fought through it and played for Slovakia, and then got a separate injury (maybe a groin pull?) in the Olympics.

Although first viewed to be no big deal, Gaborik did not play in the Rangers 4-1 win over Ottawa in their first game back from the “break.” He’s questionable against the Penguins on Thursday and the Rangers have a brutal schedule ahead (Pittsburgh, Washington (with the well-rested Ovechkin), Buffalo (with MVP Miller, who sat out the Sabres’ first-game- back loss to the Penguins, so the Olympics probably hurt Buffalo as well) and then New Jersey.

That’s not going to be easy.

If there is one Ranger near (not equal to) the level of value to the Rangers that Lundqvist is, it’s Marian Gaborik. With 35 goals in the Rangers first 59 games (he’s missed three of their last four and only played about three minutes in the one game he did play in), Marian Gaborik has scored just under 25% of the Ranger goals for the season (35 of the 152).

And although the Rangers have scored a staggering (for them) 13 goals in their last four, they might have some trouble scoring over their next four, with or without Gaborik.

WHERE DO THE RANGERS GO FROM HERE?

Well, you have to hope that The King will stand on his head from here on out. That, of course, will help the Rangers make the playoffs. While it’s hard to expect this team to make a run deep into the playoffs, at least they have a well-rested goalie.

And, in hockey, that means plenty.

© Copyright 2010 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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