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Henrik Lundqvist Doesn’t Deserve To Go Down In Flames With Rangers’ Season

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Lundqvist’s jersey will one day hang from the ceiling of Madison Square Garden. If there’s one player who doesn’t deserve to go down in flames with the 2017-18 Rangers, it is No. 30.

NHL: Dallas Stars at New York Rangers Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

After watching Henrik Lundqvist skate off the ice after a 7-4 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers, I thought of The Princess Bride. There’s an exchange toward the end of the movie with the following dialogue:

Well it just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.

The Rangers’ season is mostly dead, because as of writing they aren’t mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. The only reason the Rangers are mostly dead and not all dead in simple: Henrik Lundqvist.

Lundqvist is in his 13th season with the Blueshirts, and at age 35 he’s been pushed to the limit. Sunday’s loss versus the Flyers was the Rangers’ 60th game of the season. To date. Lundqvist has appeared in 52 games played and he’s faced 1,609 shots. For context, Lundqvist appeared in 57 of 82 games during the 2016-17 campaign and faced 1,650 shots.

On December 1, Shayna did a deep dive into the usage of Lundqvist and how it was troublesome. Nearly three months later his usage is even more troubling given the fact that the team is not built for the playoffs, and management itself has come to terms with that as well. Despite this, Lundqvist is being ridden into the ground for absolutely no reason.

To add insult to injury, Alain Vigneault has once again delivered tone deaf comments that aren’t an accurate assessment of his team, and really serve no purpose as far as I am concerned. In Vigneault’s mind, the Rangers are better than their record; the difference maker would be having more consistency in net according to a story that ran in the New York Post.

“I believe that we’re a goaltender getting on a roll here to being back in the hunt and back into the playoffs,” Vigneault said. “We started our season 4-7-2 and we were a little inconsistent in the goaltending department. I felt we were playing better than our record indicated. Goaltending got better, we went on a [18-7-3] run. Came back from the bye week and since that time, we’ve been on a [3-10] run. A little inconsistent in the goaltending department.

“I believe we’re playing better than our record indicates and I really believe that Hank and Pav can get on a roll and we can get back in the hunt and get back in the playoffs.”

These comments make little sense. For years the Rangers have been a team that has lived and died on the shoulders of Lundqvist; a team that has let Lundqvist down more times that he has let them down. Depending on who you talk to, this may be up for debate, but to that I bring up the history of the Rangers and Lundqvist in the playoffs.

Rangers in Playoffs With Henrik Lundqvist

Season GP NYR GF NYR G/GP Shots Faced Saves Goals Against SV% GAA Playoff Result
Season GP NYR GF NYR G/GP Shots Faced Saves Goals Against SV% GAA Playoff Result
05-06 3 4 1.33 79 66 13 .835 4.41 4-0 L | QF vs NJD
06-07 10 30 3.00 291 269 22 .924 2.07 4-2 L | SF vs BUF
07-08 10 31 3.10 287 261 26 .909 2.57 4-1 L | SF vs PIT
08-09 7 11 1.57 207 188 19 .908 3.00 4-3 L | QF vs WSH
10-11 5 8 1.60 156 143 13 .917 2.25 4-1 L | QF vs WSH
11-12 20 43 2.15 554 516 38 .931 1.82 4-2 L | CF vs NJD
12-13 12 26 2.17 411 384 27 .934 2.14 4-1 L | SF vs BOS
13-14 25 64 2.56 737 683 54 .927 2.14 4-1 L | SCF vs LAK
14-15 19 45 2.37 570 529 41 .928 2.11 4-3 L | CF vs TBL
15-16 5 10 2.00 113 98 15 .867 4.39 4-1 L | QF vs PIT
16-17 12 34 2.83 395 366 29 .927 2.25 4-2 L | SF vs OTT
Career 128 306 2.39 3800 3503 297 .922 2.28
Lundqvist appeared in three of four games vs. New Jersey in rookie season. Hockey-Reference

TL/DR: The Rangers have scored only 2.39 goals per game for Lundqvist while sporting a .922 save percentage and a 2.28 goals-against average. What a disappointment eh?

Back in present day, it is funny that Vigneault brought up the start to the season. Had Henrik Lundqvist not went on a run, there’s a good chance he would have been fired earlier this year.

An October 29 story written by Larry Brooks bore the headline “Alain Vigneault may have one game left”.

That one game took place on October 31 as the 3-7-2 Rangers took on the Vegas Golden Knights and won by a score of 6-4. With that win, Vigneault’s job was saved. In hindsight, it is pretty laughable that the fate of Vigneault’s job rested on his team’s performance against a newly minted expansion team with a rag tag group of castoffs from around the league.

The team would win five more games in a row before dropping two in a row and starting a new win streak that went on for four games.

During that stretch Lundqvist went 10-2-0 with a .930 save percentage and a goals-against average of 2.28. The team was on the edge of the abyss and Lundqvist hunkered down to right the ship. In the ten games that followed that herculean effort, Lundqvist continued his spectacular play with little support in front of him which resulted in a record of 5-3-1, a .928 save percentage, and a goals-against average of 2.57.

In the span of 23 games, the Rangers went from 3-7-2 and eight points to 19-13-4 and 42 points – and it was accomplished primarily on the back of Lundqvist. That run was not normal, and even less likely given the fact it was done on the back of a 35-year-old goaltender who was supposedly washed up.

For Vigneault to think the Rangers were better than their record indicated is simply delusional, and it’s even more baffling for him to feel that goaltending was the problem.

This is a team that is allowing 34 shots against per game, the fourth-most in the league. A team that is scoring just 2.83 goals-per game, the 13th fewest in the league. A team with flaws that have been covered up with sensational goaltending... again.

But according to Vigneault, goaltending is the problem at a time in which Lundqvist has been ridden like a racehorse in the final stretch of the Belmont Stakes, after having won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, that can taste the Triple Crown.

In many ways Sunday’s loss was another low moment, and it saw Lundqvist receive a Bronx cheer for making a routine save. This moment led to this line of commentary from Joe Micheletti:

“I would say this fellas, that without the play of Henrik Lundqvist, this season that this team wouldn’t be this close to being in a playoff spot. He’s been their MVP just about every season, and he will be again this season.”

Everything Joe said is 100 percent accurate. When you consider everything Lundqvist has done for this franchise it is bewildering that he could be looked at as the problem. It comes with the territory of being a franchise player making $8.5 million, but when you look at his playoff numbers it is hard to look and find where he could have done more. The margin of error has always been thin and it is hypocritical to cast stones at Lundqvist without holding the team in front of him equally accountable.

For fun, Lundqvist’s career regular GSAA, goals saved above average is 162.09. Corsica tracks the stat as far back as 2007 which excludes only two of Lundqvist’s seasons. He’s No. 1 overall, with Corey Crawford behind him in second place with a GSAA of 68.21.

In the playoffs that number is 40.98 over 115 games which is tops among all goaltenders. In second place is Chris Osgood with a GSAA of 19.97 in 42 games, in third is Roberto Luongo (another goalie coached by Alain Vigneault) with a GSAA of 16.54 in 58 games.

To be clear, these numbers are great and tell a good story, but in all fairness you could say there have been some goals he’d like back. This isn’t to excuse him from some misplays either. No one is perfect after all, but in the big picture there are more red flags which are a bigger detriment to the team than the occasional foibles of Lundqvist.

The Rangers are at this point 60 games in because of Lundqvist’s play. That isn’t a negative statement; he’s propped them up and hasn’t dragged them down.

This season has been a trying one, and a year that has seen players such as Pavel Buchnevich, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Mika Zibanejad miss multiple games. Injuries certainly play a role, but that’s not why the team is as bad as it is. The team is making the same defensive mistakes and blowing similar assignments just as they did against the Senators in last year’s playoffs.

Shayna Goldman |@hayyyshayyy

In recent weeks Tony DeAngelo, John Gilmour, Neal Pionk and Ryan Sproul have been promoted from the Hartford Wolf Pack and pressed into service, and simply have been doing the best they can on defense.

The result has been some ugly hockey with Lundqvist being left out to dry.

Alexandar Georgiev was originally going to start against the Ottawa Senators, but the flu kept him out of the lineup and led to the promotion of Brandon Halverson. Lundqvist drew in for the 2:00 p.m. start vs the Senators and he lasted 47:25 before getting pulled.

Shayna Goldman |@hayyyshayyy

Less than 24 hours later he was back in net for a 12:00 matchup against Philadelphia, a game he probably shouldn’t have started. It was interesting for the Rangers to send Halverson down in place of Georgiev who is just getting over the flu. Vigneault had no problem pulling Lundqvist on Saturday but left him in for all seven goals on Sunday.

If Georgiev wasn’t healthy enough to play, Halverson should have stayed around for another game to prevent another disappointing 60:00 for Lundqvist.

The Rangers have lost four games in a row, are five points back of the final wild card spot and sit 22nd overall in the league. There are 20 games left in the season and three games until the deadline. With the Rangers’ season all but dead I see no reason for Lundqvist to continue to serve as a sacrificial lamb.

Enough is enough, the madness needs to stop. Lundqvist is a competitor and always wants to play, but he's already played a lot of hockey.

In Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, Aaron Eckhart as Gotham City District Attorney Harvey Dent says, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Lundqvist has done so much for the franchise and been the team’s savior for so long. He’s been the hero. But the team is at a point where nothing is going right, and for that he’s drawing undeserved ire.

The Rangers playoff hopes may be dwindling and he may be the only one who can change that, but the ending will be the same regardless of Lundqvist’s heroic play as long as this team doesn’t adjust in front of him. An ending he ultimately will be vilified for by some. Overusing him just prolongs the inevitable, and brings more unnecessary chaos to the situation.

Stats via Hockey-Reference and Corsica unless otherwise noted.