Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist Opens Season At Home In Sweden
STOCKHOLM (AP) — If the Los Angeles Kings think Henrik Lundqvist will be off his game at home in Sweden when the New York Rangers begin the NHL season, they could be sorely mistaken.
Just ask Rangers coach John Tortorella, who watched his star goalie practice Thursday, one day before the regular-season opener against the Kings.
“He didn’t give in on one shot,” Tortorella said. “He has certainly ramped it up here to prepare himself.”
Lundqvist has been the center of attention leading up to Friday’s game in the Swedish capital, part of the NHL’s annual European tour. New York will face Anaheim on Saturday in Stockholm.
After getting a hero’s welcome for a preseason game against his former club, Frolunda, in Goteborg last week, Lundqvist was again swarmed by a throng of journalists in the locker room after Thursday’s practice.
The crowd at the Globe Arena is likely to give Lundqvist another overwhelming reception on Friday.
“Of course, I know there’s going to be some tension coming back to Sweden to play, but … when the game starts you don’t really think about where you are,” Lundqvist said. “I feel really good about starting. I’m excited.”
The Kings are well aware they will be facing a goalie with something to prove and that they won’t have the crowd behind them, even though it is technically a Los Angeles home game.
“Lundqvist is a premier goalie in the league,” Kings coach Terry Murray said. “We’re going to have to make sure that we get people in his face, in his eyes. If he’s able to see that puck from wherever it’s being shot, then he’s going to be able to stop it.”
The Rangers and the Kings are coming off first-round playoff eliminations, and both teams have made key acquisitions to try to make deeper postseason runs in the spring.
New York is counting on center Brad Richards to power the top line alongside top scorer Marian Gaborik. Richards, the prized player in this year’s free-agent market, signed a nine-year, $60 million deal with the Rangers.
Los Angeles bolstered its offense by making a big trade to acquire Philadelphia captain Mike Richards and signing his former Flyers teammate, Simon Gagne, who spent last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Richards and Gagne are expected to boost the scoring punch, especially when the Kings have a man advantage.
“Every season you know your role. We play on the first two lines and on the power play,” Gagne said of himself and Richards. “For sure scoring some goals and get on the scoring sheet.”
But if anyone on the Kings’ roster is likely to feel pressure, it is 21-year-old Drew Doughty, who became one of the league’s top paid defensemen after signing an eight-year, $56 million contract last week.
Doughty, who in only three years has become one of the NHL’s elite players, was a restricted free agent this summer. He missed training camp because of the lengthy contract negotiations with the Kings that finally produced the lucrative deal.
“Obviously, I have to play my best. I got that contract for a reason — because I showed people how I could play,” Doughty told The Associated Press. “Now that I have it, I’m obviously not going to step off the gas. I want to continue to get better and better every year, and I know I can do that with experience and maturity.”
As far as the missed practices, Doughty said he has already made up for lost time.
“At the exhibition game in Hamburg I felt a little slow in the first period there, but after that I thought it went pretty well,” he said. “Now I have no excuses. I’m ready to play.”
New York will be without Sean Avery, who was sent to the Connecticut Whale of the AHL after he cleared waivers this week. The move allowed the Rangers to drop his $1.93 million from the team’s salary cap.
The Rangers took advantage of that flexibility and claimed defenseman Jeff Woywitka off waivers from the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday.
That will help to somewhat offset the loss of top defenseman Marc Staal, who is on the injured list to start the season because of lingering effects of a concussion sustained on Feb. 22 when he was hit by brother Eric, a star forward with the Carolina Hurricanes.
To make room on the roster for the 28-year-old Woywitka — a first-round pick by Philadelphia in the 2001 draft — the Rangers assigned defenseman Stu Bickel to the Connecticut Whale of the American Hockey League.
Avery lost his spot with the Rangers because Tortorella said the team had players better than him. However, New York will feel the absence of the noted agitator.
“I miss Sean,” Rangers forward Brian Boyle said. “Stuff happens, but whenever guys come or go it’s not the best situation, but you just keep going.”
The Rangers will have five more road games in North America after facing Anaheim on Saturday, before their home opener at renovated Madison Square Garden on Oct. 27 against Toronto.
Los Angeles will go to Berlin on Saturday to face the Buffalo Sabres, play games at New Jersey and Philadelphia, and then host the St. Louis Blues in its home opener on Oct. 18.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.