Richter's Comeback; Rangers Goaltending Beat the Flyers

I want to start by giving you a small feedback on the Rangers vs. Islanders game which turned out to be a brawl, Lindros involved. Then, how did Richter look on his first hockey game since his injury?The Rangers had a 2-0 lead over the Islanders with Danny Blackburn playing at the top of his level, stopping 38 out of 41 shots, some saves were reported spectacular by ESPN. Eric Lindros was chasing the puck where goalie Garth Snow skated over to pass it around the boards. Both got to the puck at the sametime. Snow saw Lindros coming and lifted his arm, elbowing Lindros on the head. Lindros did not get hurt nor did he react, he just skated away. To me, that is the dirtiest move a goalie could have done to not just Lindros, but to any player, especially if it is a pre-season game. Snow payed the price, however. Purinton rammed into Snow, which led to a total of about 60 penalty minutes handed out to Purinton. The game finished with a ridiculous number of penalties handed to the Rangers by a bunch of what Sather called “replacement reffs”.

I think many Rangers fans were definitly curious about Richter. Richter playing against the Flyers? Not a simple team to beat? Is he ready? Is it too much for Richter to play against the Flyers? That’s what I thought as soon as I heard Richter was going to play against the Flyers tonight, I thought he’d play against a simpler team. But, the answers to those questions are, no, no, no, and…no.

From what I heard, observers said that Richter looked fine in training camp and that he was moving well. I believed in that, but I was still leaving a good question mark on how Richter would perform in a game. Critics said that Richter had no chance to come back, that he is too old to recover an injury, that he would have very bad knees, and that it would be impossible for a goalie to come back after two ACL surgeries, one on each knee, plus…in a matter of about 8 months. Well, Richter proved them wrong, for now.

Richter made some good saves at the start of the game. He positioned himself really well, and he looked focused, not worried. The game looked ok at first, pretty simple and one good scoring chance from the Flyers. It’s when Petr Nedved hooked his former line-mate Jan Hlavac down, to then cause a penalty shot. Richter is known to stop penalty shots, probably one of the best in hockey’s history (as said by goalie analysts) stopping 11 of 12 penalty shots in his career. Jan Hlavac skated up to Mike Richter, made a small deke, and tried to score on Richter’s stick side. Very similar to what Pavel Bure tried to do back in 1994, when Richter stopped him twice that season. Richter ended up saving Hlavac’s shot, and that’s when Richter was put to test.

The rest of the game, Richter made some great saves, stopping 17 shots. John Davidson, who was a former goalie, was very impressed with Richter, who wasn’t? Richter played a pre-season game, but that’s not the point. The point is that he is able to make game winning saves still, he still moves really well, and he still has it. Flyers fans who watched the game could admitt it that Richter looked in pretty good shape to play the first regular season game, unless you’re an anti-Rangers fan, you’d still criticize Richter. Obviously, that was just one game, and I need to see Richter play more in order to judge how many games he can handle. I admire a goalie who does not back down after two major injuries in almost one year. Richter is showing he wants to make a big come back this season, and as of now, he has shown that.

As for the game. Cechmanek made some fabulous saves as well, and he too stopped 17 shots. He also stopped Brian Leetch on a penalty shot. I have no concern on Cechmanek’s performance this season. I actually think he will win the Vezina. Hlavac did not play much, but he did have two scoring chances, one a penalty shot, the second a great effort to slide the puck in the net…denied by Richter with a leg save. I’m surprised that I haven’t heard much about Kim Johnsson, I’d be very surprised too if he doesn’t even make the team. Pavel Brendl, now this is the guy i was waiting for to watch this year. He definitly looks big in size, and does he have a great shot or what? Brendl blasted a wrist shot on Johan Holmqvist that was aiming for the upper right corner of the net. Holmqvist robbed the shot with a great glove save. I think Brendl played well, without a doubt. But, Brendl seems to be low on strength. A player his size should be very hard to knock down, yet he was pushed around almost everytime he touched the puck. He needs to build muscle, not 10lbs of fat with a result of 12% body fat, which is not good. He skated a lot better than the last time I saw him play, although I rarely saw him do anything in the defensive zone. Does Brendl have a shot to make the team? Sure, I think he does. But, to put Brendl on a 4th line would be the dumbest move, in my opinion. He is not a forechecker, and he is not a defensive player…so he shouldn’t fit on a 4th line. Could he make the 1st line? I think it is a bit risky, but Barber can give it a shot.

The Rangers player of the game was Zdeno Ciger. Ciger finally showed what he can really do, especially when he played with Nedved and Dvorak. Ciger was good in fore-checking, he was good in the defensive zone, and he showed how well he can play in the offense. He first hit the post once, and later scored on another shot. Ciger fits well on the Rangers, especially on the Nedved line. He adds more strength, and makes the Nedved line better defensively. Another player who had shown a major improvement from last season was Grosek.

Rangers are now 3-1-1 in pre-season, and the goaltending receives a lot of credit for those wins. As of now, the Rangers look a lot bigger in size, a lot tougher than last year (take a look at the total PIM in 5 games), and they are a lot faster, they hussle more. I think Sather has done a good job changing this whole team around in one year, and he is not done yet.

As for the Flyers, I think they look great. Although, they sill need t figure out who will be the RW on their first line. GM Clarke put together a good playoff team. To make it better though, he could trade Boucher to receive a good RW.

Micki Peroni