Return of the King

The rumors of Henrik Lundqvist’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Again.

It seems like almost every year there is a stretch of play that causes Rangers fans to declare their franchise goaltender as being “done” and they begin to look for other options. Through the first ten games of each season, Lundqvist seems to require some time to get sharp. In the 2012-2013 season, he started 5-5-0 with a 0.911 SV% and a 2.44 GAA. In the 2013-2014 season, he started 4-5-0 with a 0.914 SV% and a 2.63 GAA. In the 2014-2015 season, he started 6-3-1 with a 0.901 SV% and a 2.86 GAA. These starts would definitely be a cause for concern in a vacuum, as any team would likely have trouble winning games with them over the course of a season. However, Henrik Lundqvist is a goaltender who bounces back incredibly well and when he is on his game, he is among the top 5 at his position in the league. His career average statistics are 0.921 SV% and a 2.28 GAA. Rangers fans should have confidence that any level of play that is below this bar will generally rise to the mean. However, there tends to be a level of malcontent among Rangers fans regarding small stretches of play, specifically to start the season.

This year was no exception as Lundqvist got off to another rocky start. Through the month of October, Henrik Lundqvist went 4-3-0 with a 2.45 GAA and a 0.901 SV%. Optically, Lundqvist struggled with pucks going through him – most notably the 2nd goal scored by Arizona on October 23rd, when Radim Vrbata cut across the middle of the ice and shot it right past a set Lundqvist.

It’s very apparent as a spectator when Lundqvist is sharp and when he isn’t. And for much of October, he was not sharp – he seemed to struggle with seeing shots.

This has all seemed to turn around in the last 6 games during the month of November. Through those six starts Lundqvist has gone 5-1-0 with a 1.96 GAA and a 0.939 SV%. This span of games includes his “relief” appearance on November 8th vs. Vancouver when Lundqvist went in cold for Raanta during the 3rd period and he allowed two goals on six shots. During this period of time, Lundqvist has been absorbing more shots and controlling rebounds far better – both indications that he’s more comfortable tracking pucks. This is all great news if you’re a Rangers fan.

Over the course of Lundqvist’s career with the Rangers, there has always seemed to be somewhat of a symbiotic relationship between Lundqvist and the team’s offense. When the team has found goal scoring difficult, Lundqvist tends to play above his average level of play and carries the team to victory. And when the team’s scoring is near the top of the league, Lundvist tends to play more poorly. To be fair, a lot of this has to do with the team’s overall style of play. When the Rangers have trouble scoring goals, e.g. during the Tortorella era, this is generally the result of the team playing a more defensive style which allowed Lundqvist to thrive.

Conversely, when the Rangers are scoring in droves, e.g. during the 2015-2016 season, the team has a more up-tempo attacking style that puts a lot of pressure on Lundqvist to make far more difficult saves.

There is something special happening this season, however, that has gotten a lot of press. The Rangers are scoring goals at an incredible rate. Through the 6 games to start the season in October, the Rangers averaged 3.5 goals per game. Through 8 games in November, the Rangers averaged 4.625 goals per game. And while the Rangers goal scoring continues to increase, the Rangers goaltending, backstopped by Henrik Lundqvist, has also improved. Not to be outdone, Antti Raanta is also having a great season thus far. In 5 starts, he has gone 4-0-0 with a 0.938 SV% and a 2.05 GAA. Having a backup that can pick up a significant portion of the load is a boon to the Rangers. Raanta started 18 games last season and is currently on pace to start about 24 games this season, barring any injuries. This puts Lundqvist’s workload at roughly 58 games, which would be the fewest of his career (outside of the 2014-2015 season in which he sustained a long-term injury.) This relatively low workload will be key for Lundqvist as he will be well rested for the playoffs, something that will be especially important as the season wears on with the constrained schedule due to the World Cup of Hockey.

Conventional wisdom dictates that their rate of goal scoring will decrease over time. If the Rangers can continue to have elite goal scoring and can combine that with elite goaltending, which Lundqvist is exhibiting as of late, then they could be on the verge of making serious noise this season.

 

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Discussion
  1. Drew a Penalty
    Like you said, it's both. He's certainly helped them more than hurt them, though.
    He's never really been the weak link until this past playoffs.

    For the most part he's always been their biggest strength. I was just mostly implying that you can't win the cup these days without having all of the above.
    Myusername
    It hasn't prevented them, but it hasn't helped either.
    Rangers really had no choice but to put all of their eggs in one basket with Hank. So far it hasn't really worked out, unfortunately. It does seem like to win a cup these days you need all three of your offense, defense, and goalie to be up to par. Any weak link will oust you at you at some point.

    Like you said, it's both. He's certainly helped them more than hurt them, though.
    He's never really been the weak link until this past playoffs.
    He can only hold the fort so many times for so long though. Eventually needs to be allowed to have an imperfect game as well. He is not a machine. He gives the team the chance to win far far far more times than he is the reason they don't win.
    Drew a Penalty
    I don't agree with Myusername. Lundqvist has done most of the work necessary to try and get the Rangers a cup. He undoubtedly shows up as demonstrated by his game 7 record.
    His cap hit is definitely restrictive. He's being paid $1M more than the next highest paid goalie. I don't think that has prevented the Rangers from winning the cup, though. The entire team had its faults during the 2014 finals among which included an inability to hold a lead and finish in crucial moments.

    It hasn't prevented them, but it hasn't helped either.
    Rangers really had no choice but to put all of their eggs in one basket with Hank. So far it hasn't really worked out, unfortunately. It does seem like to win a cup these days you need all three of your offense, defense, and goalie to be up to par. Any weak link will oust you at you at some point.
    Long live the King
    That's the most invalid argument there is. There are plenty of goalies that have won a cup that are complete trash compared the Hank. It's a team game. You can't hold it against him. He has zero control over how many goals we score.

    Um, I can sure damn hold some of the untimely goals he's given up in key games against him. Yeah the team could have played better, but that's the whole point of paying a goalie as much as we do Hank - with the expectation that he can hold the fort when the rest of the team is slumping. He's done it many times, but he's also had some total stinkers that probably deflated the team.
    Also, I'm not saying all goalies who've won the cup should be paid 10 million, I'm saying that's ONE of the prerequisites in my opinion in earning such a huge contract.
    I don't agree with Myusername. Lundqvist has done most of the work necessary to try and get the Rangers a cup. He undoubtedly shows up as demonstrated by his game 7 record.
    His cap hit is definitely restrictive. He's being paid $1M more than the next highest paid goalie. I don't think that has prevented the Rangers from winning the cup, though. The entire team had its faults during the 2014 finals among which included an inability to hold a lead and finish in crucial moments.
    Long live the King
    That's the most invalid argument there is. There are plenty of goalies that have won a cup that are complete trash compared the Hank. It's a team game. You can't hold it against him. He has zero control over how many goals we score.

    This. Sorry but I don't think Crawford nor Niemi are anywhere near as close to the talent of Hank and they both have Cups because of the team in front of them. I'll give Crawford more credit than Niemi though. If the Rangers performed half as well as the Hawks do on their runs we probably win in 2014.
    Myusername
    I have to agree that Hank is not worth his contract, but it is what it is. For a goalie who has been considered the best in the world many times during his career he just doesn't sport the resume you would hope at this point in his career. No goalie who has yet to win the cup is worth what he's making... end of story.

    That's the most invalid argument there is. There are plenty of goalies that have won a cup that are complete trash compared the Hank. It's a team game. You can't hold it against him. He has zero control over how many goals we score.
    I have to agree that Hank is not worth his contract, but it is what it is. For a goalie who has been considered the best in the world many times during his career he just doesn't sport the resume you would hope at this point in his career. No goalie who has yet to win the cup is worth what he's making... end of story.
    Lets see what happens when the new goalie gear starts to get enforced. Seems like Henrik Lundqvist is kind of ticked off about it that its going to happen mid-season that their will be changes to the goalie gear.
    NYR2711
    IM, while Hank eats a lot of the cap, the main problem is what they paid the defense. You have 2 guys that are eating up a lot of cap, and can't be moved, and that is the weakest part of this team, and has been for a while now. Remove Girard's and Staal's contracts and we would would have more money for forwards.

    Problem was that they were paid in a transitionary period. The team went from being a grit based defensive team to a speed based offensive team. They were getting paid for their usefulness in one system. Bunch of other factors go into why, but it makes sense in theory to pay the core of your team. Defense and goaltending was at one point the strength so they locked it up in hopes of that maintaining. It didn't.
    Pete
    I think the issue is that when the Rangers gave Lundqvist his retirement contract, the league was changing into a more of a speed/scoring/skill league and our goalie is the highest paid player on the team.
    If we were allowed to invest more in the offense over the past few years, we might have been able to get over the hump.
    The 2 goalies in the last SCF don't make half what Hank makes, combined. Corey Crawford had to win a cup and still doesn't make what Hank makes.
    To sum up my argument, and not that it's Hank's fault per se, but you simply don't need to invest $8+ million in the goaltending position. What we are paying him has caused us to have to fill the lineup with guys like Pouliot, Pirri, Grabner, etc., and while Gorton looks like a genius in hindsight, lots of people thought this team would be garbage as recently as 8 weeks ago.
    Does Hank deserve to be the highest paid player on the team? Probably. But in a cap league he simply eats too much of it for someone who hasn't won anything and can be argued has a rep for giving up weak goals at bad times.

    IM, while Hank eats a lot of the cap, the main problem is what they paid the defense. You have 2 guys that are eating up a lot of cap, and can't be moved, and that is the weakest part of this team, and has been for a while now. Remove Girard's and Staal's contracts and we would would have more money for forwards.
    I think the issue is that when the Rangers gave Lundqvist his retirement contract, the league was changing into a more of a speed/scoring/skill league and our goalie is the highest paid player on the team.
    If we were allowed to invest more in the offense over the past few years, we might have been able to get over the hump.
    The 2 goalies in the last SCF don't make half what Hank makes, combined. Corey Crawford had to win a cup and still doesn't make what Hank makes.
    To sum up my argument, and not that it's Hank's fault per se, but you simply don't need to invest $8+ million in the goaltending position. What we are paying him has caused us to have to fill the lineup with guys like Pouliot, Pirri, Grabner, etc., and while Gorton looks like a genius in hindsight, lots of people thought this team would be garbage as recently as 8 weeks ago.
    Does Hank deserve to be the highest paid player on the team? Probably. But in a cap league he simply eats too much of it for someone who hasn't won anything and can be argued has a rep for giving up weak goals at bad times.
    LONG TIME FAN
    H.L. will always be great in my book. The guy has been the spine of this team since forever.

    That's a point made in that article. And it's dead on. This team's success since the lockout is largely on his shoulders. We don't know what would have been if the Rangers were only back stopped by a good goalie all these years instead of a great one, but the results speak for themselves. Within 3 wins of a cup and many other runs where lack of production hurt their chances.
    If only Hank was a better goal scorer.
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