While the merry (yeah, right) band of New York writers will take their appetities to the Fish Market here tonight, I suggest Henrik Lundqvist order room service.
Lundqvist is 3-1-1 in the five previous games against the Penguins this season. But if his sore and “very stiff” neck doesn’t respond to treatment and rest, rookie Chad Johnson will make his first start of the year tomorrow, coach John Tortorella said today.
Lundqvist, who has appeared in 16 straight games and is 5-1 in the past six as the Rangers have moved into seventh place in the Eastern Conference, was driven into the net on a third-period rush by the Canadiens’ Benoit Pouliot on Friday, and did not practice yesterday.
Although he felt better before the Rangers flew here, Lundqvist, who did not sustain a concussion, will re-assess his condition Sunday morning. “I have a tough time moving my head, but the treatment has really helped…I have the whole afternoon to take it easy,” Lundqvist told reporters after practice.
Johnson, 1-2-1 in five appearances last season, was called up from the AHL when Martin Biron’s collarbone was broken by Derek Stepan’s shot in practice on Feb. 28. The 24-year-old Calgary native has yet to appear in a game this season.
“Working with Benny (goaltending coach Benoit Allaire) on technique and facing guys like Marian Gaborik in practice is something you can’t get it the AHL,” Johnson told Newsday during the two-game California road trip last week. “I’m preparing for any emergency; I’ll be ready…I hope nothing happens to Hank, of course, but you never know.”
Whatever choice Tortorella makes is risky. Johnson, 16-19-3, with a 2.72 goals against average, a .901 save percentage and two shutouts in 40 games with Connecticut this season, hasn’t played a game in 24 days. Lundqvist, the team’s MVP, could start, but if he can’t continue, Johnson would step in. Or Lundqvist could relieve Johnson if necessary. The Rangers did not call up another netminder from the Whale.
Johnson, a fifth-round pick of the Penguins in 2006, made his NHL debut on Dec. 30, 2009 when the Rangers met the Flyers, and stopped 17 of 20 shots in relief. His first NHL win, a 3-1 decision, came in Colorado on Jan. 31, 2010.
NOTE: The Rangers host Florida on Tuesday night, and that could be a chance for Johnson to start---or for Lundvist to return to action after today, tomorrow and Monday off. Which way would you go, Blue Noters?