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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