The New York Rangers are slowly climbing up the ladder, and they are almost at the rung that is currently occupied by some of the NHL's top contenders. After a tumultuous start, the Broadway Blueshirts are playing like many thought they would under bench boss Alain Vigneault, and once again Henrik Lundqvist is in a marquee role.
Early in the season, many people were down on Lundqvist; some even suggested that the size reduction on goalie gear was responsible for 2011-12 Vezina winner's slump. The Olympic break is upon the NHL, and the Rangers' netminder has a chance to make a run at the Vezina Trophy.
The Rangers are playing their best hockey of the year, but better days are ahead of them because of Lundqvist's return to form.
Before going into the nitty-gritty, here is a table breaking down the splits of Lundqvist's season to date.
|Henrik Lundqvist's Performance by Month|
As you can see, the early months are ugly, but the most recent months are rather sexy from a statistical point of view. These numbers are in line with what Lundqvist has achieved since entering the NHL, and the King is on his way to recording his eighth 30-win season.
Thus far, Hank has a 22-18-3 record with a 2.44 GAA and a .918 save percentage, and his numbers are improving after each start.
The bulk of the season is over, but after the Olympic break the Rangers will need to finish strong to make the playoffs. With a record of, 32-24-3 and 67 points, the Rangers occupy second place in the Metropolitan Division.
While this seems like a solid record, the division has become very competitive over the past few weeks, so the Rangers have a small margin for error going forward.
When the Rangers resume NHL action, there will be 24 games left on the schedule. Thirteen of these games will be on the road, including a four-game swing through Western Canada, ending in Colorado with the Rangers vs. the Avalanche.
Of the 24 games, expect Lundqvist to play at least 17 or 18 of them, leaving five or six starts for Cam Talbot. If the Rangers want to make the playoffs, they will need to capture at least 30 of a possible 48 points.
There is a three-point gap between third and seventh place in the division, so the Blueshirts need to capture as many points as they can. If New York finishes the season with more than 100 points, that should be enough to lock up a playoff spot.
With that in mind, is the above scenario achievable? Based on Lundqvist's play over the last 15 games— which includes a 10-3-1 record with a 1.91 GAA and a 0.935 save percentage—it is very doable.
Lundqvist is in the zone right now, and his return to elite form should propel the Rangers to a nice playoff spot.
If the above model is followed and Lundqvist only starts 17 to 18 of the final games, he will finish with a total of either 61 or 62 starts.
Either number would be the second-fewest number of starts in an 82-game season of his career; that ultimately could pay off hugely during the playoffs.
The Rangers have usually found themselves in a Catch-22 because they have needed Lundqvist rested for the playoffs, but they have a bad habit of riding him like a racehorse in order to clinch a playoff spot.
This year Talbot has really played a huge role as Lundqvist's backup, which should enable Lundqvist to end the season strong.
The numbers appear to be in Lundqvist's favor and should dramatically alter the Rangers' outlook. The Rangers still have some serious areas to address if they want to be considered a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, but they certainly have one of the league's best tandems to finish out a hectic and challenging 2013-14 campaign.