2006-12-15 / Sports

The Week of Weekes For A N.Y. Rangers Goaltender

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

By Joe McDonald
Sports Columnist

NEW YORK - This is not what Kevin Weekes expected when he signed with the Rangers right before the lockout and then re-upped with a two year deal after the league went back to work.

A starter for the Carolina Hurricanes, the 31-year-old expected to come into the Garden and assume the role left pretty much vacant when Mike Richter retired. While playing the bulk of the games, Weekes would also work with younger goalies Henrik Lundqvist and Al Montoya, who were expected to split time between New York and Hartford.

But that plan went out the window when Lundqvist came in and took the city by storm. When The King showed he could be the franchise goaltender the team was looking for, Weekes slotted into the unaccustomed backup role.

“He accepted it because that’s in the best interest of the team,” said coach Tom Renney. “He also - along with Henrik - has no problem with the competition for starts. It’s healthy. It manifests itself on how guys practice and guys play. He competes for the next opportunity.”

Those chances are few and far between. Last year it took until January for Lundqvist to claim the top spot, but now he is the unquestioned No. 1, so Weekes needs to make most of his chances.

“It’s a very different reality than I am accustomed to,” Weekes said. “I guess the biggest challenge and biggest adjustment is to be ready. But you do the best you can and try to make the contributions to the team when you can. And try to play as often as possible.”

So far this year, Weekes has played in nine games and is 4-3 with an 2.83 goals against average and a .891 save percentage. Those numbers are higher compared to his last two seasons in Carolina, but this year, Weekes does get credit for being somewhat of a savior of the team after Lundqvist was benched for three games in the beginning of November..

The backup started and won tough games in Anaheim and San Jose. He then started against Buffalo on November 5 and took the high flying Sabres into overtime. The Rangers were able to solve a number of their defensive problems, while giving Lundqvist a chance to correct his mistakes. It’s a situation like that which makes the Rangers very hesitant to move the backup.

“I always suggested to him he’s a starting goaltender in this league,” Renney said, “but the dynamic here is certainly unique. In order for us to win we have to be a team and Kevin is completely on side with that. He completely reiterates that. It gives you the measure of the man.”

So for now, Weekes bides his time and tries to make the best out of his opportunities. This past week, he started two games - against Florida and in Philadelphia - and only gave up one goal in each. He is looking as sharp as he has ever been as a Ranger.

“I wasn’t thinking that much I guess. I was mores playing and just reacting.” Weekes said after Sunday‘s win. “Ideally that’s how you want to play when you are out there. But sometimes you can’t see the puck or the puck is bouncing around out there. It’s not always going to be a night like tonight.”

Weekes took Carolina to the Stanley Cup Finals four years ago, so there is no pressure on him. In fact, Renney thinks there may be interest in him if another team needs a netminder. “He’s mentally tough and certainly has the capacity to do that in this role,” Renney said. “But I am not suggesting he is a backup goaltender in this league. If a team needs a goaltender, I would call the Rangers. But that’s not me to say.”

With no other veteran backup in the organization, general manager Glen Sather will probably hold onto Weekes for the rest of the season.

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