2006-04-07 / Sports

NY Hockey Report: The Case For Lundqvist

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

By Joe McDonald
Sports Columnist

Goalkeeper Henrik Lundqvist stops an overtime shootout shot from Buffalo Sabres center Derek Roy to give the Rangers an overtime shootout win. (AP Photo/John Marshall Mantel)Goalkeeper Henrik Lundqvist stops an overtime shootout shot from Buffalo Sabres center Derek Roy to give the Rangers an overtime shootout win. (AP Photo/John Marshall Mantel) NEW YORK - Because of the lockout last year many first year players who would have been in the league were forced to make their debuts in October. Couple that with a banner freshman cop this year and 2005-06 can be considered the season of the

rookie.

As expected, top young players Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby have bettled it for the top goal scoring positions with the Russian import pulling away from his younger counterpart as the year went along.

With 48 goals and 47 assists, it's hard to argue Ovechkin's importance, but is he the most valuable rookie in the league? And is he more valuable to the last place Washington Capitals than Rangers rookie goalie sensation Henrik Lundqvist is to his team?

With 60 points, Washington has the fourth worst record in the league second worse in the Eastern Conference - just in front of Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins. With success like that, it can be argued, his team wouldn't be much worse without him. The left wing has been benched by coach Glen Hanlon for staying on the ice too long and though his assists total has increased recently, Ovechkin is a shoot first, pass second forward, who has something to learn about team play.

Compare that to Lundqvist, who is first in rookie wins [30] and goals against average [2.18]. When the Swedish import first took the Madison Square Garden ice, the stench of the last seven playoffless seasons were washed away. His butterfly style translated well into the NHL game, while stabilizing a position on the Blueshirts, which was a voide since Mike Richter was in his prime a few years ago.

Also the Rangers are in first place because of the significant contribution of Lundqvist. No matter how many goals Jaromir Jagr scores this year, New York's success first and foremost comes from great goaltending and a strong defense and in the center of it is the Olympic Gold Medalist. And as proven in the past, a winning Rangers team is not just good for the city, but also good for interest in the league.

So before the votes are cast by the Professional Hockey Writer's Association, numbers should be checked, contributions counted and when all is said and done, the Rangers' rookie sensation between the pipes should merit a strong look for the Calder Trophy.

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