Sunday, March 18, 2012

Rangers play Avalanche with goalies struggling

It’s hardly a revelation that consistently superior goaltending formed the foundation of the Rangers’ run to the top of the East.

As the Rangers’ play has dipped pretty much across the board over the last two weeks during which time the club has gone 3-4-1 and 2-4 in the last six heading into tonight’s Garden match against the Avalanche (7 p.m., MSG2, WBBR [1130 AM]), that includes the work of Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron.

There have been more rebounds surrendered, fewer pucks covered, more first-shot goals allowed, more bounces going the other way.

Rangers goaltenders have allowed three goals or more in seven of their last eight in recording a combined 3.22 goals-against average and a .879 save percentage over that stretch after having surrendered as many as three in a game in just three of the previous 14 and seven of the prior 28 matches.

This from a tandem that ranks third overall in the NHL with a 2.02 GAA (behind the Blues’ Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott and the Kings’ Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier) and second overall with a .928 save percentage behind the St. Louis duo.

Lundqvist, who missed the last two games because of the flu, said yesterday he is healthy enough to return against Colorado, 22nd overall in the league, scoring 2.49 goals per game.

The Rangers need The King to be at his best, to be as impregnable as he had been from Jan. 21 through Feb. 27 when he allowed two goals or fewer in 12 straight starts including four shutouts, a stretch in which he recorded a 1.23 GAA and .933 save percentage.

The power play has been up and (mostly) down all year. The forecheck game has been good, but not quite consistent. The Rangers have routinely won games in which they have spent more time in their own end than in the offensive zone.

The Rangers have won those games because of their goaltending, but not enough lately. The Rangers need to improve their game as a unit. They need to get more offense from everyone other than the Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik-Carl Hagelin unit, whose work has just about been extraordinary since constructed midway through last Sunday’s game against the Islanders. They need stronger play from the defense on and away from the puck.

But more than anything, the Rangers need their goaltenders to return to the top of their respective games.

* Ryan Callahan — who has missed three straight and four of the last eight with a right foot injury — and Michael Del Zotto — who has been sidelined for four straight and five of the last eight with a right hip issue — both went through yesterday’s complete practice. The winger and defenseman each reported that no decision could be reached regarding availability for tonight’s match until at least this morning.

Artem Anisimov, who suffered a left shoulder injury on a check from Joe Vitale that forced him out of Thursday’s 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh at the 14:52 mark of the second period, did not skate and is likely unavailable tonight.

Steve Eminger (undisclosed injury) and Ruslan Fedotenko (flu) also were not on the ice.

Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers, Jaroslav Halak, GAA, Jonathan Bernier, Michael Del Zotto online, Jonathan Quick, Brian Elliott

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