Vitali Yeremeyev, the 25 year old goalie from Kazakhstan, has had a superb first season in North America. He started the year in the ECHL, then moved up to the AHL and was dominant there, and now he finds himself in the NHL wearing a 3rd different jersey this season.
Yeremeyev’s NHL debut came a few weeks ago as he relieved Kirk McLean in a 4-3 loss against the Hurricanes. But Yeremeyev got his first chance to start a game yesterday when goalie Mike Richter was unable to go because he had fluid drained from his surgically repaired knee a few days earlier. The game wasn’t a memorable one for Yeremeyev, as the Rangers put forth one of their worst efforts of the season in a 4-1 loss to the Bruins at the FleetCenter.
It all started 33 seconds into the game when Bill Guerin took an innocent shot from the sideboards that Yeremeyev deflected away with his stick, but the puck hit off Brian Leetch in front and trickled right back into the net. Since Yeremeyev doesn’t speak English, the lack of communication showed. Guerin scored another one, this time 13:49 into the 1st period. Guerin was allowed to stand right in front of the goalie and tap in a pass from behind the net to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead. The Rangers defense just stood there and didn’t even make an attempt to knock Guerin down or not give him position. Radek Dvorak was able to put the Rangers on the board when he scored 17 seconds into 2nd period. But with the Rangers on the power play a few minutes later, the Bruins were able to score again. The third goal was another mistake by the Rangers defense, as Brian Leetch fell down (partially tripped) behind the net while taking a pass from Yeremeyev. Brian Rolston stole the puck, passed it out in front and Mikko Eloranta put it home before Yeremeyev could get back in position. It was a shorthanded goal, the Rangers 8th given up this season. The next goal was scored again by Mikko Eloranta, this time in the 3rd period. He skated into the zone with the puck and fired a wristshot top shelf over Yeremeyev’s glove from the bottom of the right circle. Not many goalies make that save, but it was a goal that the Rangers defense could have prevented by playing Eloranta better defensively.
It turned out to be a horrible game for the Rangers, as Yeremeyev finished with 20 saves on 24 shots. The only goal you can really credit him for letting in was the 4th goal, which was the Eloranta wrist shot beating him top-shelf. The other 3 were huge misplays by the Rangers defense. Yeremeyev looked very calm in net and made a lot of key saves. He showed good lateral movement, being able to get side to side quick enough to stop some shots. He is very active with his goalstick, much like Kirk McLean. If he spoke English he would be even better, as the lack of communication between his teammates showed.
Yeremeyev has worked his way up the depth chart this season and the Rangers are really high on him. He was relatively unknown to Rangers fans until he signed a contract over the summer and came to North America this season. Some compare him to Evgeni Nabokov, the rookie goalie of the Sharks who is leading the league in almost all goaltending categories. Yeremeyev and Nabokov know each other from their days playing junior hockey back home in Kazakhstan. I think their playing styles are similar, but Yeremeyev is better with his goal stick. We’ll have to see how Yeremeyev does when he starts getting more NHL action. Right now he appears that he does have the potential to be an NHL starter. At 25 he is old enough to be a good back-up for the Rangers next season as McLean’s contract is up and it is very likely he won’t be resigned. Yeremeyev is now 0-2-0 in 2 games in the NHL. He got the loss in Carolina on the 27th of December when he let in 1 goal on 14 shots in relief.
Yeremeyev will not be in the pipes tonight against the Minnesota Wild at the Garden, as the Rangers have sent him back down to Hartford to play in tomorrow’s AHL all-star game. The game will be televised on ESPN2 at 4:00 PM Eastern time Monday. Tomas Kloucek was also selected to play in the all-star game, but I am unsure if the Rangers plan to send him down so he can play.