Henrik Lundqvist: A Miracle Worker

Sep 16, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) makes a save on New Jersey Devils center Jacob Josefson (16) during the second period at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 16, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) makes a save on New Jersey Devils center Jacob Josefson (16) during the second period at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Much has been written about the responsibility for the New York Rangers last 3-2 loss to the rival New Jersey Devils. In an unusual display of public honesty, transcending the camouflage of terms like “lower body injury” and “it’s a team sport,” Henrik Lundqvist’s goaltending was pointed to as at least one important reason the Rangers lost that night. On the second Devils goal, a shot by Ryan Carter from down low, a bad angle, simply made its way directly between the King’s legs. That the Rangers tied it up in the third period and lost late was also explained by a combination of bad luck and running out of gas.
Is it a constructive strategy to publicly call out your franchise goalie as apparently the mild mannered and supportive head coach, Alain Vigneault did? Wasn’t that the approach of the now defunct coach, John Tortorella? We hear that Vigneault won’t say anything that he hasn’t already shared with the players; they are not just hearing it for the first time in the press. Lundqvist himself describes goaltending as an exposed position, that it is easier to observe both strong and less than desired play in that one position. I don’t think that was offered as an excuse, but rather just to note that the play of the entire team, in what I believe is the ultimate team sport, is responsible for wins and losses, the entirety of the game. Hockey fans know that no game has faster split second decisions to be made, shifting instantaneously from offense to defense and back again, or gauging the best method with which to enter the opponent’s zone.
That being said, in the time that fans have anointed Lundqvist as the King between the pipes, the success of the New York Rangers, culminating in being a reliable playoff performer and with a trip to the conference finals in 2012, largely has rested on Lundquist’s stellar play. We hear that without his elite level tending, the Rangers would not have been nearly as competitive. The question then is what is too much to expect of a net minder? For even in the glorious season of 2011-2012 resulting in a Vezina  trophy for Hank, the team faltered in the playoffs against the same rival Devils, who finished well below them in the standings. Indeed, that’s as far as the Rangers have gone in the playoffs during Henrik’s entire tenure. Fans have come to expect the routine and the sensational saves from him. Any winning team needs that. But in games like the loss to the Devils the other night and in playoff performances, what we see in Hank is a combination of routine and sensational saves mixed with shots he should have had. What a champion goaltender needs to do is make the miraculous saves: while flat on the ice on your stomach kicking up the back of your leg to stop a shot (the “scorpion save); displaying a 6th sense for where an impossible deflection is heading, and so on. What shouldn’t be at issue is letting in the long shots, mishandling the puck giving it away to an attacker, or letting the puck in from a bad angle through the “5-hole.”
It is then a good sign that the less than miraculously missed save opportunity is addressed. Hank knows where he can be better, and so does the team. There is still plenty of time for Hank the elite goaltender of the New York Rangers, one of the best in the world, to become greater than a King, to be a Saint, a miracle worker. While we may not expect this from Cam Talbot, the Rangers backup staring tonight in Montreal where Lundqvist has been his most mortal, we can dream of future saints.

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