If the New York Rangers are going to go with Igor Shesterkin in net, what does that mean for Henrik Lundqvist?
The New York Rangers are playing it close to the vest when it comes to naming a starting goalie for their Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Hurricanes. The most David Quinn will say is that there will be a starting goalie on Saturday. However, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see where they are heading.
Igor Shesterkin has been getting the lion’s share of play with the top squad in practice. His image is all over the Rangers’ social media accounts. He was the only one of the three goalies to be conduct a post-practice Zoom interview with the media. And, oh yes, he has played extraordinarily well in their practice sessions. If we need any proof, it will come on Wednesday when the Rangers face the Islanders. As the the only opportunity to get any real game action, the Blueshirts will have to go with the netminder that they are starting on Saturday.
There is an outside chance that they will split goaltending duties on Wednesday between Shesterkin and his designated back up, undoubtedly Henrik Lundqvist. And that brings us to our subject of the day.
If Shesterkin is the starting goalie, who will be the backup? Lundqvist was the backup for all of Shesterkin’s 12 starts except for one and that was Lundqvist’s choice. The rule was, if the King didn’t start, he was the designated backup. When it comes to the playoffs, how well is he suited for that role?
Lundqvist as a backup
Henrik Lundqvist’s game preparation is legendary. When he is in the “zone” his teammates avoid him. He’s persona non grata on game days and he likes it that way. As a result, the common belief is that he is not well suited to coming into a game cold. It is true?
Henrik Lundqvist has played in 887 NHL regular season games. He has started 871 of them. Over a 15 year NHL career he has come in as the relief goalie only 16 times. That said, this season he came in as the relief goalie four times, the most in his career.
His first relief appearance was on November 14 in Tampa. Alexandar Georgiev had given up four goals and David Quinn pulled him midway through the first period. In 33:18, Lundqvist allowed four goals on 19 shots and Georgiev came back to finish the game in the third period. While it wasn’t a great performance, the Rangers were so bad, the Geico walrus would have allowed multiple goals that night.
That was the last time he allowed a goal in a relief appearance. On New Year’s Eve he stopped six shots in 24:18 in a 7-5 loss to Edmonton. Again, he relieved Georgiev who gave up four early goals.
His next appearance was in relief of Igor Shesterkin who had to leave the game on February 11 for the concussion protocol. Lundqvist played just over six minutes before Shesterkin came back and while Lundqvist faced only one shot by the Winnipeg Jets, it was a tough and crucial save .
His final appearance was against New Jersey on March 7 when he replaced Shesterkin who had been strafed for five goals in his first game back after his car accident. Lundqvist played 17:27 and stopped all five shots he faced.
Before this season
Lundqvist’s last relief appearance before this season was on January 13, 2018 when he relieved Ondrej Pavlec in a 7-2 loss to the Islanders. He made 16 saves on 18 shots while playing 33:07. He was better than Pavlec who surrendered five goals in just under half the game.
On February 9, 2018 Lundqvist won a game in relief, replacing Pavlec after the first period when the starter suffered a knee injury and couldn’t continue. He stopped 28 of 30 shots as the Blueshirts won 4-3 at the Garden.
Some of Lundqvist’s reputation as a mediocre replacement came in the 2016-17 season when he had two bad appearances in relief of Antti Raanta. In November, he gave up two goals on six shots in a 5-3 loss to Vancouver.
His appearance on January 14, 2017 was in Montreal, Lundqvist’s personal house of horrors. Raanta suffered a lower body injury and Lundqvist played the last 38 minutes of the game. He allowed five goals on 22 shots including three goals in just over a minute in the third period as the Habs came back from a 3-2 deficit to win, 5-4.
Over a decade from 2006 to 2016, Lundqvist was a workhorse as the number one goalie and appeared in only five games in relief, backing up Raanta, Martin Biron, Steve Valiquette and Kevin Weekes. At one point he went three years between relief appearances.
His rookie year
In his rookie season he came in as a reliever three times, the most in any one season until 2019-20. One of them was a turning point as it cemented his role at the Rangers’ number one netminder. On December 26, 2005, Weekes allowed four goals in the first period against Ottawa and Lundqvist came in to play the last 45 minutes while stopping 16 of 18 shots in a 6-2 loss. Until that game, Weekes had started 16 out of 36 games. After this loss, Lundqvist handled the bulk of the duties for the Rangers.
That same season, Lundqvist got the only shootout win of his career as a reliever. He again came in for Weekes who allowed three goals over 12 minutes in the second period against the Sabres. Lundqvist stopped all eight shots he faced as the Rangers came back to tie Buffalo and he went on to prevail for his third shootout win of the season.