Okay, there’s more to say about Sunday’s game besides Henrik Lundqvist. Pavel Buchnevich’s assist to Brady Skjei was excellent to get the ball rolling, Kevin Hayes has been outstanding and had another multi-point game, the top-six looks much better since Mats Zuccarello and Buchnevich returned, Mika Zibanejad’s getting back to his power play scoring, and so on.
But more than anything, what should be talked about is Henrik Lundqvist. Again. And again.
There have been more negatives than positives in New York this season, but that’s to be expected for a rebuilding team. And this defense was anticipated to be a train wreck. Well, 32 games later, and that proved to be true. It’s not the only flaw of this team, there’s quite a few, but it’s what has impeded them the most. It’s impeded no one more than, guess who? Henrik Lundqvist.
Thirty-six year old Lundqvist should have been washed up years ago, because we all know he’s far past his prime and it’s particularly challenging to maintain such a high level of play when facing such a ridiculous workload each and every game. But Lundqvist’s defied the odds and has been the glue to hold this team together — even this year, at 36 years old!
Through their first 32 games, at 5-on-5, the Ranges have taken just 45.17 percent of the shot share, which is the second worst in the league. They allow the third highest rate of shots against of 61.46 per 60 and the seventh highest rate of scoring chances against (28.47 per 60).
Lundqvist so far this season has faced 641 5-on-5 shots, which is the fifth highest in the league. The four goaltenders ahead of him (John Gibson, Marc-Andre Fleury, Frederik Andersen, and Craig Anderson) have all played more games and more minutes than him though. He’s stopped 93 percent of those 641 shots and saved 7.68 goals above average.
Of those 641 shots, he’s sixth in high danger shots against with 162. Four of the five goaltenders ahead of him have played more games and minutes than him, only Jacob Markstrom of the Canucks has played less and seen more high-danger shots against.
The Rangers faced 82 shot attempts against in all situations vs. the Vegas Golden Knights, and 41 went on net. Seventy-two of those shots were taken at 5-on-5 as the Rangers conceded more than 65 percent of the shot share. Thirty-seven of those shots went on goal. To have any chance in a game like that, a goaltender has to be spectacular, and Lundqvist unsurprisingly was.
It didn’t take long for Lundqvist to have to be that either. Midway through the first he was put to the test after Neal Pionk gave the puck away, and Lundqvist made two saves on Wild Bill Karlsson. That second save, a diving stop on Karlsson’s shot to shield the open half of the net and maintain their 1-0 lead, was a highlight of the game.
Early in the second, Lundqvist stopped an odd-man rush and a rebound.
A few minutes later, both Skjei and Tony DeAngelo were caught puck watching and focusing on Max Pacioretty, who sent the puck to Paul Stastny and got the Golden Knights their first lead of the game. This is the kind of defensive support Lundqvist could use, since he already committed to Pacioretty with the puck. Stastny shouldn’t have been wide open and both defenders backs shouldn’t have been towards him.
Traffic and a deflection in front? No big deal for Henrik.
Later in the second, the Golden Knights tied the game 2-2 when William Carrier shot one past Lundqvist. Lias Andersson lost the puck and Vegas capitalized on the odd-man situation. Pionk, the only defender back, tried to suppress the passing lane instead of Carrier with the puck.
Early in the third period, Lundqvist kept Vegas from adding on their lead with a great glove save that he somehow made look easy.
For the seventh time this season, Lundqvist faced at least 40 shots on net. He stopped 37 of the 41 today. While he actually had some support with three goals from the Rangers, he didn’t have nearly enough especially at 5-on-5 in the defensive zone.
Similar to last year, Lundqvist Coach Henrik has been more vocal with his defenders, most likely in an effort to get them to adjust how they play in front of him. For those that were on the team last year, when Coach Henrik first truly emerged, these mistakes are less excusable. And if the assistant coach handling the defense isn’t going to instruct them to make the necessary adjustments.... Lundqvist apparently has to do it himself.
We all know Lundqvist can stand on his head and we all anticipated that he would have to this season, which is why routine rest is key. To date he’s started 25 of 32 games which is 78 percent off all games.
But if the Rangers look back at this match and think they performed well since it was a close game because they battled back and fought for a lead, unlike say Friday’s loss, they need to think again. It was much more lopsided than it may appear on the surface.