It was simply shocking to see Mike Richter laying on the ice in extreme pain after jamming his right leg into the goal post while trying to slide across the crease to make a save on Monday afternoon. This is the second consecutive year that Richter will have season-ending surgery to repair a torn ACL. Last year it was a similar play that tore up his left knee, while this year it’s his right knee. There have only been a couple of cases in the NHL where a player has been able to come back from 2 serious knee injuries, but Richter sounded optimistic to the media after the game on Monday, saying that he knows the routine and he will be ready for camp in September. What makes this injury even worse is it happens at a bad time. The Rangers are in the midst of a 5 game unbeaten streak which leaves them currently only 6 points behind 8th place Boston for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. With a goalie spot available on the Rangers roster, they have opted to recall 25 year old Vitali Yeremeyev from Hartford.
Yeremeyev has played solid hockey for the Wolf Pack this season, posting an 11-11-1 record with a 2.53 GAA and a .919 Save%, along with 3 shutouts in 24 games this season. He was selected to play for the PlanetUSA team in the AHL all-star game, surrendering only 1 goal, however that goal turned out to be the game-winner for the Canadian team in the 3rd period. In 2 appearances this season with the Rangers, Yeremeyev has suffered 2 losses. He relieved Kirk McLean in a game earlier in the year in Carolina, giving up only 1 goal on 14 shots during the game, however that was 1 goal too many as the Rangers lost 4-3 to the ‘Canes. Yeremeyev got his 1st NHL start in a game at Boston. Again, the Rangers lost this one, this time by a score of 4-1. However, considering the many defensive mistakes made by the Rangers that day, it makes Yeremeyev’s performance look worse than it was.
So, this brings Yeremeyev into a sticky situation. Back-up Kirk McLean, an experienced starting goalie who came within 1 game of winning the 1994 Stanley Cup, would probably get most of the playing time, right? Wrong. All signs point to Yeremeyev getting the start Friday night in Pittsburgh against Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and the cast of sharpshooters the Penguins have. When asked about the decision of who will start in goal on Friday, Head coach Ron Low responded “I don’t know. I’ll make the decision as the week goes along. I want to watch Yeremeyev a little bit and see what happens. You go back to Kirk’s last game against Pittsburgh (8-6 loss in October) and I’m not sure I want to play him against Pittsburgh.”
It will be an interesting situation to keep an eye on for the rest of the season, but barring a trade for a starting goalie, it appears the Rangers will be giving Vitali Yeremeyev a big chance to prove that he belongs in the NHL.