Allowing 11 goals in his last four starts, Henrik Lundqvist has begun to struggle in net at about the worst possible time for the New York Rangers. Come to think of it, the all-star goaltender always seems to be off of his game at around this time every year. This season, though, Lundqvist has allowed goals when the Blueshirts desperately need him to make the big save, something he is usually successful at doing, but lately those big saves have not been made.
Now I mentioned Hank has allowed eleven goals in his last four, however, I value quality over quantity when looking at the Swedish star's recent difficulties. By this I mean the soft goals Lundqvist has let by him are eventually coming back to hurt the Rangers at the end of the night. Lundqvist is not coming through in the clutch and is allowing game-determining goals that should never have even given him a problem blocking. Take Sunday's tilt against the Detroit Red Wings for example. With less than five minutes remaining in a tied contest, Dan Cleary throws the puck at the net from practically behind the goal line, and somehow it manages to elude Lundqvist, who eventually kicked it in with his skate. That simply cannot happen and is not expected from a goaltender of his caliber.
Then you have the goal that would break Lundqvist's "to be" shutout in Buffalo on Saturday. Yes, if Brian Boyle would have buried the puck in the wide open cage just before the play it would have been a 3-0 victory, but nonetheless, Vanek rips a shot from the boards above the face-off circle and the shot beats Lundqvist through zero traffic, no redirections, and no interference at all. It was just a simple slapper that is saved ninety-five percent of the time.
Going back to last week when the Rangers hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second of a home-and-home at Madison Square Garden. Mike Rupp, who has taken off into a scoring surge since registering his first career hat-trick against New York, enters the zone and sends a soft wrister toward the far post. Rupp missed his target and shot just below the crossbar, yet is still passes a questionable Lundqvist. The shot was moving at a slow pace and Hank just simply missed the puck with his glove therefore beating him. Granted Lundqvist is not normally good with his glove (now known as a weakness around the league), but shots of that speed are saved nine of ten times. Unfortunately the law of averages did not apply this time around as it turned out to be the game-winner and cost the Rangers the game.
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Just to put in perspective exactly how much Henrik has not looked like his usual composed self, you just have to look at the statistics. Lundqvist currently leads the league in losses (11). He is fifth in goals against (63). Then he is 18th in save percentage (.914) and 20th in goals against average (2.64). I remind you that when I say he is first and fifth in losses and goals allowed, it does not mean he is fifth best or at the top of the list. It means he is at the bottom with the most losses and most goals against in the league.
Those are not Henrik Lundqvist stats by any means. Most often when you look at goaltending leaders, you can find the 27-year-old netminder with one of the higher save percentages and lower goals against averages. That has not been the case in 2009-10 thus far, and has many of us worried, as well as Lundqvist himself.
Now do not get me wrong here, I love Lundqvist and what he does. In fact, he is one of my favorite players in the league and not solely because he is a Ranger. This guy is extremely competitive, much like Richter was, and will turn this around; no doubt in my mind. I think his problem right now is that he is too frustrated and aggravated. He is not used to such horrid stats, or seeing soft goals tumble past him. It has him thrown off mentally and I do not think the fact that the defense in front of him is invisible on a consistent basis is helping much.
You cannot completely blame the defense, but they factor in negatively when you discuss Henrik's struggle. That being said, the defense has tightened up and played well in the last two contests, which resulted in less goals against, but the soft ones still managed to haunt the five-year veteran in goal.
I am not going to panic just yet based on Lundqvist's history and what he has proved, and I believe that he needs to approach his game with a similar mentality. He needs to come back to Earth and have the train of thought he has when he leads the league in the specific categories listed above. Hopefully the combination of the coaching staff, team support, and two days off have helped that cause. A great deal of things are going wrong for this team at the moment, and goaltending cannot be one of them if the Blueshirts look to get out of this current slump anytime soon.