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Does NY Rangers Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist Have Any Weaknesses?

Jeremy FuchsCorrespondent IIISeptember 5, 2012

Does NY Rangers Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist Have Any Weaknesses?

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    Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best goalies in the National Hockey League.

    The New York Rangers star capped off a brilliant season in which he went 39-18-5, with a 1.97 goals against average and a .930 save percentage while winning the Vezina Trophy, given to the league's best goaltender.

    He's great—no question. But he's not perfect.

    No goalie is, and Lundqvist is not an exception.

    While he may be the best goalie in the league, he's not without weaknesses.

    What are those weaknesses? Read on to find out. 

Puck Handling

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    Arguably, puck handling is Lundqvist's biggest weakness.

    His main problem is that he leaves the net at the wrong time. He either hesitates for just a second more than he should, which lets the forecheck come in, or leaves when the forecheck is near. Either way, it's a recipe for disaster. 

    Even Lundqvist admits that he has to work on it: [via New York Post]

    The last thing Glen [Sather] told me before I went home for the summer was that I have to be better around the net [handling the puck]," the goaltender said. "I don't know if I'm better passing the puck, but I'm better the way I place in the puck for the defense in our own end.

    "I'm not always great, but I have more confidence."

     

    Lundqvist can't just stay in his net all the time—that's not good, either. So what's a goalie to do?

    There are a few options once you play the puck, says Buffalo Sabres' goaltending coach Mitch Korn:

    Now that the goalie has gained possession of the puck, he must move it. Too often the goaltender either moves the puck past his teammates (too far), or just blindly throws it—seemingly with no reason—to the corner, possibly getting his defenseman crushed into the boards.

    Ideally, the goalie should make every effort to leave the puck in a good position—behind the goal line and away from the boards—for a defenseman. But, if the goalie has to move the puck, he must have an objective in mind when doing so. The netminder usually has three choices.

    First, the goalie can make a pass to a teammate. Whether he chooses a direct pass, or chooses to move the puck around the boards, the puck should not be sent too hard. Firmly, yes. But send it too hard and miss your man, and the opponent is sure to gain possession, and possibly create a good scoring chance.

    Often, in order to assist the netminder, a defenseman “peels off” to avoid a forechecker and gets into a passing lane to wait for the goaltender’s pass.

    A second objective would be to clear the zone. Many goalies are just not strong enough or quick enough to clear the zone—even though they try—and end up turning the puck over for a good scoring chance. When clearing, always avoid the middle of the ice. Try to get some elevation on the puck, and clear it toward the boards, close to the blueline. By taking this angle (close to the blueline), the puck will leave the zone most quickly.

     

    Lundqvist is not strong on his pass. It's not a firm pass. In fact, it's a pretty weak one. This leads to a defenseman stranded in the corner.

    Additionally, Lundqvist cannot clear the zone. Not only does he not do it, but when he does, it's not effective.

    So we know that Lundqvist has to have a stronger pass. Not too strong, but firm enough to let the defenders start the break out.  The weak pass can lead to turnovers, and golden opportunities to opposing teams. 

    Imagine this: A quick, strong, effective pass to Michael Del Zotto, who brings it up the middle into the zone and starts an offensive chance. The Rangers need more of that. 

    We also know that Lundqvist has to start passing out of the zone. For one, the Rangers are a pretty speedy team—think Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik, Chris Krieder. If Lundqvist can get the puck to them quicker, then they can get up ice quicker.

    Martin Brodeur is one of the best at passing the puck out of the zone and watching him do just that to get the offense going is something Lundqvist should model.

    Lundqvist needs to do a better job of getting it up ice, not making those weak passes to the corner. Get it around and up the corner, not have it die there.

    Of course, changing all this in one season may not be possible. But Lundqvist can start this season by improving his decisions. Knowing when to pass it out of the zone, knowing when to get it to his defenders and knowing when to stay in the net—these are all things that Lundqvist can improve on.

    Once he does that, Lundqvist's biggest weakness can become a strength.

High Glove Side

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    One of Lundqvist's other biggest weaknesses is his high glove side.

    In fact, the Washington Capitals think that it is the best way to beat him. Former goalie and current goaltending coach Olaf Kolzig had this to say: [via CSN Washington]

    “You look at him and you think, ‘Geez, he plays pretty deep, you should be able to pick his pocket,’” Capitals associate goalie coach Olie Kolzig said. “But his angles are so good and he plays so wide. You’ve got to beat him with a good shot, a good high shot.”

    High glove side is tough for most goalies to stop in general, but it does seem to cause particularly difficulty for Lundqvist.

    If you get in up close and a shooter can angle his shot to that glove side, you have a very good chance of scoring. 

    Lundqvist got beat often to that area in the playoffs, especially in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Devils, where Ilya Kovalchuk made that area his home.

    Let's not forget that Lundqvist is also a bit vulnerable on his high blocker side.

    But the high glove side is the big problem.

    As Kolzig notes, Lundqvist plays pretty deep in the crease. While that style of play has greatly benefited him in his career, it allows teams to attack that high glove side.

    Of course, it's a tough shot for shooters to make, which means that Lundqvist doesn't have to change his style completely to adapt. Still, Lundqvist should at least come out of his crease a bit more to cut off the angle. Not every time, but enough to make shooters think twice.

Traffic

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    Traffic. Everyone hates it. And everyone has to deal with it.

    Hockey goalies are no exception. Coaches preach traffic in front. It blocks the goalie from seeing the puck, and it's hard to stop a puck when you can't see it.

    Kolzig sees this as crucial to beating Lundqvist: [via CSN Washington]

    It’s playoff hockey and you say it time and time again that you’ve got to get traffic in front. 

    “Ovi’s goal in Game 2 there was traffic. [Lundqvist] didn’t see it and he picked it up late and those are the ways that you’re going to beat this guy. Usually, when goalies are playing this well, if they see it, they’re stopping it.”

    Kolzig's right. When there's traffic, it can be harder for Lundqvist to get set—he's trying to maneuver himself so he can see the puck. That means that quick passes and hard shots—like the one from Alexander Ovechkin—can see the back of the net.

    Of course, getting rid of traffic isn't really Lundqvist's responsibility; it's up to the defense. The Rangers have a physical defense corps, but they're not the most adept at clearing the crease. Lundqvist will have to work with his defensemen to do a better job of reducing traffic up front.

    Something going in Lundqvist's favor is that a lot of teams don't like to put guys in front. For one, players aren't willing to pay the price. For another, some teams just don't have the big bodies on their roster to put down there.

    This is the one weakness that Lundqvist doesn't have total control over, but he could be more assertive in helping to clear the crease and along with help from his defensemen, King Henrik should be able to improve in this area. 

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