Henrik Lundqvist is great. Like, really, really, really great. This isn't an argument, this is a fact. He's one of the best goaltenders on the planet -- if not the best -- and is probably the greatest goaltender the Rangers have ever had. Statistically he already is, but Mike Richter played for some awful teams and in a different time and has a ring on his finger. It's not apples to apples.
Expecting Lundqvist to be Lundqvist is something we take for granted. It happens so often it's easy to forget that he's, very simply, the knife's edge difference between winning and losing most nights.
This year has highlighted a lot of that. The Rangers are 16-3-2 but haven't played well. They've been out-possessed, out-chanced and out-played more than anyone seems to want to admit. Even those who dismiss advanced metrics seem to be coming around that maybe things aren't as great as the record is making it seem. And maybe the reason why the Rangers look so good is because their goaltender is so good.
This story is both a ode to Lundqvist's legend and, hopefully, a screaming alarm clock for those who think "the Rangers are winning and that's all that matters."
I've been attacked a lot of late about how I'm being nit picky and how I'm looking at the Rangers with a glass half empty approach. My problem -- and really the Rangers' problem -- is that good isn't good enough anymore. And right now the Rangers are not playing hockey that will win them a Stanley Cup, let alone a single seven game series. That's the end goal, and this play is not sustainable. Sustainability wins Stanley Cups more than anything else.
Lundqvist, for as good as he's been, will not be able to keep up this pace. The Rangers will not keep scoring on so few shots and when both of those things regress the sky will fall. Hell, the Rangers have been so lucky that they may actually play better and still lose a lot of games. That's how far into this territory they've ventured.
Of course you take the 16-3-2 record, 34 points and first place in the East and run with it. You take that cushion and you shove it under your pillow because the day will come when you need something to fall back on. You hold those points to your chest and thank the Hockey Gods you even have them.
But I want to illuminate just how herculean this Henrik Lundqvist effort has been this year.
The yellow line above is Lundqvist's current SV% and shots against so far this year. The goals against column signifies how many goals he's given up this year and the difference column is the difference between the different save percentages and how many goals he would have given up. The yellow line also represents his current numbers.
If Lundqvist had been posting his career best SV% (93%) he would have given up nine more goals than he has this year. The Rangers have won five of their 16 games by one goal so far this year; don't you think those nine goals would paint a different picture? What about his average save percentage of 92.1%? That would see Lundqvist surrender nearly 14 more goals than he already has. Don't you think that takes a little bit of the bloom off this rose?
Here's the same report but this time with a full year's shots against for reference to try and project what things might look like.
These numbers are also formulated against what his current projected numbers (the yellow line) would be. The drop offs from there are enormous. Even falling to his career best save percentage would mean 28 more goals in the Rangers' net. If he falls to his average it would mean nearly 45 more goals given up.
Nothing annoys me more than someone asking me to apologize for having Lundqvist on my team -- and this happens all the time. He's one of the highest paid players in the league for a reason and he's paid to make sure the Rangers win games. That's not my point here. My point is that relying on Lundqvist to have a full year of a 94.6 SV% when his career best is 93% is asking for trouble.
Realistically you should expect Lundqvist's number to dip. He's not staying at his current pace and he's probably due to see a nice little decrease at some point. The below is a list of the best save percentages recorded in the NHL since 2005.
How #NYR team sv% ranks vs best teams since '05: (’16 NYR - .944) ’13 OTT - .933 ’11 BOS - .930 ’12 STL - .929 ’14 BOS - .928 ’11 VAN - .927— HockeyStatMiner (@HockeyStatMiner) November 24, 2015
Lundqvist is a full 1.3% better than the best save percentage since 2005 (the above has NYR as a team at a 94.4 but Lundqvist currently sitting at a 94.6). Even falling into the 93.3% range would see an enormous drop off from where he is right now. And it's not insane to assume Lundqvist might even dip below that number -- remember, his best season ever is 93%.
This is the last chart I want to show you, curtsy of War-On-Ice. This shows all goaltenders (minimum of 250 minutes played) high-danger save percentage against their actual high-danger saves (raw total). The color indicated the number of shots they're seeing per 60 (blue is more which means worse defense).
Lundqvist is basically in a world of his own here. Roberto Luongo is the only goaltender who has made more high-danger saves but his high-danger save percentage is nearly ten clicks less than Lundqvist. This chart should scare you, because the Rangers are giving up a significant number of high-danger chances and right now Lundqvist is bailing them out. When that stops happening there's going to be some significant problems.
This isn't a shot at Lundqvist, either. He is, in my opinion, the best goaltender on the planet -- even one of the best players in the NHL -- but no one can keep these numbers up for a full year.
This is not an argument, this is a fact.