When the season started most Rangers’ fans expected what they had come to know and love about Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist, who seems to be the perennial Vezina finalist, did not live up to expectations when the season started. Lundqvist, just like the rest of the Rangers, got off to a horrible start; and he may have been his own worst enemy. It could’ve been several things: adapting to new pad size, a new system under a new coach, and a change in the depth of the nets. All of these probably factored into Lundqvist’s poor performances. That was until Lundqvist went back to what he knows best playing deep in the net.
The Rangers got off to a bad start. Lundqvist was a big reason why. He wasn’t the same. He appeared to be coming out more to cut down the angles and far too many times resulting in a goal he should’ve stopped. Lundqvist was getting beat at an alarming rate on the short stick side. He seemed off. He was even quoted on his own website as saying “I’m trying to get used to it… it’s definitely a big difference.”
One of the changes was the league wide ruling to reduce the size of NHL goalie pads. The prior rule was as follows: the leg pad length from the center of the goalie’s knee and his pelvis cannot exceed 55 percent of that distance, plus a four-inch (4”) allowance for the height of the skate. Now, limit is 45 percent, about two inches of pad space, and that cuts the blocking surface down. So when he is closing his five hole, Lundqvist loses approximately four inches of blocking space. To a sniper in the NHL, four inches is a mile. To compensate for this he wanted to cut down the angles more by coming out of his net. That resulted in throwing him off because of the nets were four inches shallower this year. This allows wraparound opportunities at a higher rate. This probably did have a lot to do with Lundqvist’s poor start. Then there was a new coach implementing a new system. This new system did not emphasize packing down around the net and blocking shots as before. Lundqvist’s poor play forced coach Alain Vigneault to use his rookie net minder, Cam Talbot, to start three straight games early in the season.
Those all seem to be things of the past because Lundqvist’s play seems to be back where it belongs, deeper in his net, playing his game. Since the January 3rd loss to Pittsburgh, Lundqvist appears to have gotten his game back. Since January 6th, when Lundqvist played the Blue Jackets giving up three goals, Lundqvist has not allowed more than two goals in a game. His stats over the last seven games are more like his career averages. In that span, Lundqvist is 5-2-0, with a 1.57 GAA, a .949 save percentage with a shout out, facing 228 shots and stopping 217. Lundqvist is playing deeper in his net again relying more on his athletic ability, moving his head and using his feel for the game, as opposed to cutting down the angle more, playing the percentages and probabilities. Over this period of time Lundqvist has all but eliminated the bad goal he was giving up almost on a nightly basis earlier in the season. By him playing deeper in his net Lundqvist has teams thinking about backdoor passes and height trailers again as well as the obvious crashing the net. Prior to this shooters were noticing he was out of his net and is angles were off, resulting in short sided goals.
There were some, in the beginning of the season, who questioned whether or not Lundqvist would be back with the Rangers after this season. Some even wanted to trade him early to avoid losing him to unrestricted free agency at season’s end. This was all based on a handful of games Talbot had played. With the play Lundqvist has demonstrated lately, with all due respect to Cam Talbot, the best Rangers fans can hope for is that Talbot continues play well in a backup role increasing his trade value for next season.
Lundqvist is the Rangers and the Rangers are Lundqvist. The Rangers will go as far as their franchise goalie will carry them. Lundqvist must maintain this level of play throughout the season and deep into the playoffs for the Rangers to be in any discussion for a Cup.