First of all, we had a very special guest come onto the podcast last night. Nick -- the father of Noah, who you might have seen with Adam Clendening after the game in Chicago (tweet below for reference) -- came onto the show to share his story.
It was moving, and helped reinforce just how important these grassroots campaigns to help people can be. You’ll understand more about what I’m talking about when you listen, but Noah and Clendening’s relationship started in the AHL and it’s progressed to where it is now. Give it a listen, it’s worth it.
On to today’s story ...
Henrik Lundqvist will be getting his first start in five games, relieving Antti Raanta who went 3-1 in his four consecutive starts that stirred up some concerns. We all had a pretty good idea that unless Raanta pitched a shutout against Chicago Tuesday Lundqvist was going back in, which is exactly what happened.
Larry Brooks suggested the other day that the bar had been set for Lundqvist thanks to Raanta’s dominant start, which adds even more talking points to a situation most people think is a non-issue.
Here’s the thing, Lundqvist “struggling” through December isn’t something new. Tom Urtz did some work on this, and was able to tab out Lundqvist’s statistics through 24 games. Take a look below:
This came across my FB feed for "On this Day" so I updated it. If I get a chance later I will update it with better metrics. pic.twitter.com/TPE4M22v5b— Tom Urtz Jr. (@TomUrtzJr) December 13, 2016
Shockingly, we’ve seen this movie before, which is why it was so annoying to see Alain Vigneault’s quotes about how Raanta “deserved to start” or “I love Hank but I love the team more.”
The life of a backup is not a glamorous one. Backup goaltenders are not spare defenseman or forwards who are attempting to work their way into the lineup (which, in New York, is hard enough as it is). They are there simply to be used as filler, and everyone knows it. Due to that reality, sample sizes for backups are usually very small, and their statistics reflect that one way or another.
I’m not trying to take anything away from Raanta. In his 11 starts this year he’s 8-2 with a 1.69 GAA and a .941 SV%. Those numbers are fantastic, but are also the product of him playing just 12 games this year. You’d expect those figures to fall back to normal territory the more time he plays because that’s the way these things work. Lundqvist -- who is literally setting the standard for what an elite goaltending career should look like -- has never put up consistent numbers below a 2.00 GAA. No one does.
If you need more proof on this, look no further than the below:
the long view: goalie performance of notable veterans in career (from 2007) and last 3 years. Lundqvist's career will always be the standard pic.twitter.com/CNU1DfcMCR— Cole Anderson (@CrowdScoutSprts) December 8, 2016
Those who are begging for Raanta to start because Lundqvist is “slowing down” or “is washed up” seem to be missing the point: You’ll most likely never see a goaltender as good as Lundqvist on Broadway ever again. And if you do see a goalie who even mimics his numbers, they probably won’t be able to replicate them for a decade plus. More important, as the above table from Tom shows you, Lundqvist does this all the time.
The historical aspect of this is important. I don’t believe in trusting a player to bounce back simply because I want them to. The Dan Girardi argument doesn’t work here simply because Lundqvist has struggled at this point in the season before and has bounced back every single time.
Last year Lundqvist’s 2.48 GAA was absolutely an anomaly in terms of his career numbers (2.29 GAA), but his save percentage of .920 probably tells more of the story. Last year Lundqvist’s SV% was tied for 7th, despite his GAA being middle of the road. That speaks far more to the defense in front of Lundqvist (you have to be giving up a ton of shots to have that kind of disparity between SV% and GAA) who allowed 1,944 shots on net (by far the most of any other goaltender). That averages out 30 shots on net against. For reference, Raanta only saw 21.2 shots on net a game last year. The numbers are almost exactly the same this year.
As The King returns to the net, there’s going to be an unrealistic bar set for him based off Raanta’s great week. Lundqvist will not finish the year with a 1.65 GAA, nor should he be expected to. He will work his way back to becoming the all-world guy he always becomes, and then people will point to this little four-game stint as the reason behind it.
That aside, the Rangers have work to do on their own as well. As we’ve talked about, the team has played much tighter in front of Raanta than they have in front of Lundqvist. You can argue that point all you want, but the numbers speak for themselves. The refresher is here if you need it.
That’s Vigneault’s primary goal right now. He needs to figure out why the team is fundamentally different in front of the two goalies, and he needs to level out that playing field. That’s what you should be watching for, not whether or not Lundqvist is pitching shutouts night after night.
Don’t worry about him “reaching the bar.” There is no bar for him to reach.
That’s because he is the bar.