The holiday season is upon us and the New York Rangers have a lot to be thankful for. Currently sitting near the top of the Eastern Conference with a 14-9-2-1 record, the Blueshirts have posted an 8-3-1-1 mark in the month of November. There are a lot of reasons for the club’s 31 point outburst over its first 26 games, but none greater than the man between the pipes.
Mike Richter has been one of the many success stories on the Rangers this season and has proven that when healthy, he remains one of the top goaltenders in the game. Battling back from season-ending ACL injuries on both knees over the last two seasons, Richter has returned to All-Star form. The Abington, Pennsylvania native has posted an impressive 11-5-2-0 record, along with a 2.68 goals against average and a .922 save percentage.
“Mike’s just playing within himself,” said Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather. “He’s played very well. He sees everything now and he looks good.”
While he has kept the Rangers close in many games this season, the entire weight of the team is no longer a burden on Richter’s shoulders, who is now receiving help both offensively and defensively. The solid scoring production that the team has received up to this point from players like Eric Lindros, Theoren Fleury, Mike York and Brian Leetch has been a blessing for the netminder. The addition of impressive rookie Dan Blackburn helps fill the void of a dependable back-up goaltender, enabling Richter time to get the rest he needs so that he is at the top of his game.
“I feel more comfortable out there since I’ve been able to practice hard and come into the games fresh,” said Richter, who has not allowed more than three goals in any of his last 12 outings. “Danny has played well for us and the team has begun to get on track.”
The 5-11, 185-pounder has won seven of his nine starts in the month of November, posting a 7-1-1-0 mark. Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim snapped his personal seven-game winning streak - his first since October 31. Over the last 12 games, Richter has stopped 359 of 383 shots, going 9-2-1-0 over the span. And if you thought the stats ended there … he has posted a 20-3-8-0 mark in the last 31 matches in which he has faced 40 shots or more, including Tuesday’s 47 save effort in Buffalo.
With his dominant play on Broadway, many are now touting a healthy Richter as the starting goaltender for the 2002 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, a role that he is rather familiar with. The Rangers’ all-time wins leader has appeared in numerous international events for Team USA, including the Winter Olympics (1988, 1998) and the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, in which he was named the tournament's most valuable player.
But for now, though, Richter is concentrating on his responsibilities on a Rangers team that is evolving daily. “It’s really nice to get into this groove, and with the way everyone’s playing, the chemistry is starting to develop and the team is starting to play well.”