NY Sports Day

A Tale of Two Seasons

NEW YORK -Though their surnames are representative of two countries, the sweaters of Marian Gaborik and Henrik Lundqvist are each adorned with the very same diagonal logo.

R-A-N-G-E-R-S.

Thus, before the Winter Olympics interrupt yet another NHL regular season and separate any number of teammates for a solid two weeks, this logo remains the one constant for both the Slovakian forward and the Swedish goalie.

When Gaborik inked a five-year deal during the off-season, for a reported $37.5 million, New York appeared to have as much strength on its first line of offense as the last line of defense.  While skating for the Minnesota Wild in 2007, the 27 year-old forward blitzed the Rangers for a five-goal, six point game, en route to a career-high 42 goal, 83 point season.  Some observers may point to good karma, as the last blueshirt to amass as many goals or points was Jaromir Jagr, a fellow countryman,

Still, a more likely reason that Glen Sather, the team’s general manager since 2000, opened the vault was that, aside from Jagr, none of the players on his watch had scored 42 goals; in fact, Mark Messier, with 47 during the 1995-96 season, was the last Ranger to reach this plateau.

With 23 goals and 42 points, Gaborik is off to a splendid start on Broadway.  However, he is counted upon far too often, and one could only wonder where the Rangers would be without him.

Through 33 games, which have produced a 14-16-3 record, New York has tallied a mere 89 goals.  The quick math suggests that Gaborik has been involved in almost half of its scoring plays; the more frightening math is that the 6’1”, 199 wing has notched one goal for every 3.8 Ranger goals.  The disparity is so great that Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos [who has scored 18 of the Lightning’s 80 goals] is a distant second with a 1-in-4.44 ratio.

To further illustrate Gaborik’s importance, not even Wayne Gretzky’s 92-goal season in 1981-82 could compare.  The Edmonton Oilers, then coached by Sather, knocked in a whopping 417 goals, and Gretzky potted one goal for every 4.53 goals scored by his mates.

To think where New York -already in 11th place to begin with [though just two points out of a playoff spot]- would be without Gaborik, a five-time 30-goal scorer, is unfathomable.

And, to think that Gaborik, who had hip surgery in January 2009, can never be injured again is equally insane.  Just 12 games into his Ranger career, Gaborik missed two games with a knee injury following a collision with the Coyotes’ Petr Prucha.

At the other end of the ice, there is Lundqvist, who was rewarded with a six-year, $41.25 million extension in February 2008.  Except that, unlike Gaborik, he doesn’t have the numbers to show for his efforts; Wednesday night’s 2-1 loss to the Islanders was his league-leading 13th loss.  And, though Lundqvist finished the contest with a respectable .916 save percentage and 2.57 goals-against average, both of those numbers appear quite pedestrian when stacked against the league leaders.

Though he has yielded four goals or better on just five occasions, the opposition has had nine three-goal games against him.  The Rangers average fewer than three per game.

Losing with such frequency is new to the 27 year-old, who had amassed 142 victories over his first four seasons.  Along the way, he established a franchise record with 30 victories as a rookie in 2005-06, was nominated for the Vezina Trophy in his first three seasons, and remains the only goalie in NHL history to begin a career with four consecutive 30-win seasons.  Additionally, his stellar play in net during the 2006 Olympiad in Torino, Italy catapulted Sweden to just its second gold medal ever.

Now, all of those accolades are buried in a rollercoaster season.

“I want to make sure I do everything to help the team turn this around,” he replied after stopping 26 of 28 shots.  “As athletes, we play to win, and we are just not winning.”

Following an opening night loss to the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins, Lundqvist reeled off a six-game winning streak.  Since that point, however, he has only won five of 20 games.

It was just never like this before.

From his NHL debut, on October 8, 2005, it was evident that Lundqvist was in this league to stay.  Less than a week into his rookie season, he won his first game.  Within two weeks, Lundqvist notched the first whitewash by a Ranger freshman since John Vanbiesbrouck more than two decades earlier.

His first 30-win season eclipsed the franchise’s previous rookie high of 29, shared by Jim Henry [1941-42] and Johnny Bower [1953-54]; along the way, Lundqvist was New York’s first rookie netminder to post 20 wins since Mike Richter in 1990-91.

“The King” was born, and Ranger fans had someone to believe in.

And on and on it went.

Until now.

More than ever, the Rangers rely on Lundqvist to have a fighting chance.  Steven Valiquette, the perennial back-up was demoted to Hartford, and Chad Johnson was recalled.  But, whether or not Lundqvist’s workload is affected remains to be seen.  The next NHL game Johnson plays will be his first.


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