Every season Henrik Lundqvist is expected to carry his team to the Stanley Cup and every season they fall short – not because of Lundqvist, but because the team in front of him is incomplete. The expectations are high every season because Lundqvist is a generational talent and when the Rangers’ ultimate goal is not reached, much of the blame is directed towards him – even though his play is typically the primary reason for their competitiveness and accomplishments.
As talented as Lundqvist is, the challenges of a goaltending cannot be overlooked – those challenges were described by legendary Jacque Plante and should be kept in mind when critiquing Lundqvist.
“Goaltender is a normal job. Sure ! How would you like it if at your job, every time you made the slightest mistake a little red light went on over your head and 18,000 people stood up and screamed at you?”
The 2016-17 Rangers had a number of glaring flaws, namely their defense and the coaching tactics of Alain Vigneault. The defensive shortcomings only made Lundqvist’s season even more challenging, as they bled shot attempts against (58 CA60), shots against (30.35 SA60), and scoring chances against (8.72 SCA60) this year.
Therefore, in order to adequately assess the play of Lundqvist in the 2016-17 regular season and 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the team in front of him must be a consideration as well.
This season, Lundqvist appeared in 57 games (31-20-4) and earned a 0.910 save percentage and 2.74 goals against average. At 5v5, he had a 0.918 save percentage and 3.16 goals saved above average. Yes, 0.918 is lower than recent seasons and did not meet expectations, but again the team in front of him deserves much of the blame as well.
Eighty-four goaltenders appeared in at least 50 minutes of 5v5 play this past season. Lundqvist played the 15th highest minutes (2618.15) of those 84 goalies and faced the 1347 shots against (13th highest). Of those shots against, 564 were low-danger and only 11 goals were scored (0.981 low-danger save percentage). Additionally, he faced 467 medium-danger shots and allowed 45 goals (0.904 medium-danger save percentage). Lundqvist also faced the fifth highest number of high-danger shots against (316) and allowed 54 high-danger goals, which translated to a 0.821 high-danger save percentage.
As he has for the last seven consecutive seasons, Lundqvist led his team into the postseason, where he played all 12 of the Rangers postseason games (6-6). In those 12 starts, he earned a 0.927 save percentage and 2.25 goals against average.
At 5v5, his save percentage increased to 0.937 and he had a goals saved above average of 4.74. Overall, he faced 316 shots against (156 low-danger, 90 medium-danger, and 70 high-danger).
At the time of the Rangers’ second-round elimination, the only goaltender that faced more high-danger shots against was Cam Talbot of the Edmonton Oilers. However, Lundqvist’s high-danger save percentage (0.871) was more favorable than Talbot’s –overall ranking second (to Jake Allen’s 0.889, who only faced 45 high-danger shots against) at that point in the playoffs.
While his play dropped in their second-round series against the Ottawa Senators, the defense’s plummeted as well. Against the Montreal Canadiens, Lundqvist’s stellar play was game-changing as he posted a 5v5 save percentage of 0.957 while saving 6.68 goals above average.
Although Lundqvist’s play diminished against the Senators, he was not the reason the team’s playoff elimination. The fact of the matter is that winning a Stanley Cup is a team effort, even with a generational talent in net – and as much as Lundqvist has shown how he can carry his team deep into the postseason, it is not sustainable enough to win a Stanley Cup.
This is rate of scoring chances against over time. You're looking at the New York "Henrik, please do everything, always!" Rangers. pic.twitter.com/IQL6ljkbTI— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) July 12, 2017
The defense was absolutely dreadful this season and postseason, and cost the Rangers a number of games, as did Vigneault’s coaching choices. The onus was on Vigneault to adjust his defensive strategies accordingly when they were blatantly struggling and leaving Lundqvist far too vulnerable and forcing him to over-compensate.
Unfortunately, during the season when Lundqvist did falter, particularly in the month of December, Vigneault held him accountable for the Rangers’ struggles rather than identifying why his play was not at the level demanded of him. Lundqvist could have been sharper this past season, but the onus was on his coach to adjust his defensive tactics, deployment, and pairs accordingly when his goaltender was clearly struggling.
A player inevitably declines as they age and Lundqvist is not exempt from that. Regardless of him turning 35-years-old this season, the expectations were still higher than how he performed because he is that talented.
And those expectations are so high because of his consistency throughout his career – reflected by his NHL record 11-seasons with 30+ wins to start his career and ability to win at least 30 games in every full season he has played (something that no other goaltender has accomplished). But this past season was the first in eight years in which his save percentage was less than 0.920 – so while it was a down year by his standards, he is still a remarkable, record-breaking goaltender in a land full of voodoo and uncertainty.
With everything in mind, including Lundqvist’s performance and the lack of support he received through the regular season and postseason, his play merited an overall grade of a B this year.
*5v5 data via Corsica.hockey.