The 2011-12 season was a career best for Henrik Lundqvist. In just 62 games, Lundqvist posted 39 wins, a 1.97 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and eight shutouts, leading his New York Rangers to an Eastern Conference Finals birth for the first time since 1997. His season-long mastery in net was worthy of "The King's" first ever Vezina Trophy in his fourth career nomination.
Was it the ceiling for Henrik Lundqvist? Or are we just scratching the surface at how dominant he can be over a season?
The latter is the right answer.
Since entering the NHL in the 2005-06 season, Lundqvist has routinely been one of the NHL's better goaltenders. He's been the reason why the Rangers have made the playoffs in all but one season since the lockout and why teams fear having to go against him for 60 minutes.
This past season, Lundqvist notched his seventh consecutive 30-win season, becoming the first goalie in NHL history to do so. Not Patrick Roy. Not Ken Dryden. Not even Martin Brodeur. It's Henrik Lundqvist who has earned that honor.
Entering the 2012-13 still in his prime at 30 years old, and with a young, energizing team to play around, Lundqvist is very capable of not only repeating his 2011-12 performance, but building upon it.
Lets find out why.
No team can have a goalie play all 82 games in a season and expect to do very well. Netminders are work horses and love the grind, some needing to play a lot to stay in a rhythm. Henrik Lundqvist is that type of person. He is so competitive that his drive to succeed hates to take a backseat to resting.
However, it was the amount of rest Lundqvist received in 2011-12 that aided in him having a career-best year. A fresher Lundqvist was a more dominant Lundqvist, and a more prepared goalie for a deep playoff run.
None of this happens without Martin Biron, New York's backup goalie.
Coach John Tortorella stressed before last season that Lundqvist needed to play a bit less, and that's not possible without trusting your backup to win games. In 21 games, Biron posted a 12-6-2 record, 2.46 goals-against average, .904 save percentage and two shutouts. These are strong numbers that allowed Lundqvist to get a breather when needed.
Biron re-signed with the Blueshirts prior to the July 1 free agency period, agreeing to a two-year, $2.6 million deal. Aside from a modest raise, it's Biron being comfortable as Lundqvist's understudy that propelled him to come back.
If Biron can have an effective 2012-13 season, it will mean Lundqvist, on the whole, will be fresher and more capable of putting up incredible efforts.
Part of the reason Lundqvist has been successful on Broadway, particularly under John Tortorella's watch, has been the approach of his defenders in front of his net.
New York likes to keep everything to the outside, collapse in front of Lundqvist and block shots whenever possible. Sometimes, the defense breaks down, leaving Hank exposed to some quality, in-close shots. But, other times, it's New York's defense that prevents Lundqvist from seeing a glut of chances.
New York's defensive efforts were key in finishing third in the NHL in goals against per game (2.22) and sixth in shots allowed per game (27.8)
The defensive corps of Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, and Marc Staal all the lead the way in sacrificing their bodies for the greater good of the team. All are young (Girardi is 28 and the elder on the back line) and still developing. Captain Ryan Callahan leads the way with forwards who block shots routinely, along with Brian Boyle.
It takes a great deal of sacrifice to play defense the way the Rangers do, and it's tough to hold up over an 82-game season. However, with another year of experience under their belt, the Rangers' team defense will be more in tune with how to prevent offenses from getting chances, allowing Lundqvist to focus in more on the shots that do get through.
The New York Rangers have a secret weapon when it comes to their excellent play in net, and his name is Benoit Allaire. As the Blueshirts' goalie coach for the entirety of Lundqvist's career, Allaire is renowned for his abilities and meticulous work to get the most out of his goalies, and the same should be expected heading into the 2012-13 season.
Under Allaire's tutelage in Phoenix, goalies Sean Burke, Brian Boucher and Nikolai Khabibulin all improved their numbers and consistency, with Burke earning a Vezina and Lester B. Pearson award for his 2001-02 season.
With the direction of Allaire, Lundqvist achieved considerable success right from the get go, setting the team record for most wins by a goaltender in his first two NHL seasons (67) and he was also a finalist for the Vezina Trophy in each of his first two seasons.
When Lundqvist accepted his first Vezina Trophy for his 2011-12 performance, he credited Allaire as being "the best goalie coach in the world." In an interview with InGoal magazine, Lundqvist talked specifically about how Allaire has constantly evolved his game, making sure both are steps ahead of the NHL's goal scorers from writing a book on how to beat Lundqvist.
Via InGoal magazine:
“If I look at myself now and six years ago, it’s a big difference in my stance,” Lundqvist told InGoal. “I am way more upright. I was low all the time and now I feel like my timing is better and it’s easier for me to be patient when I am upright. When you are really low you tend to go down on every shot, no matter whether it’s high or low. But when my stance is a little higher I feel like my patience is a little better.”
Combining a great goalie talent with an exceptional goalie mind has paid dividends for the Rangers. Another offseason of hard work and training with Allaire can only benefit Lundqvist and keep him at the top his game.