The New York Rangers are in first place in the Atlantic Division and are fourth overall in the league. I said in a previous article that first place and the winning record was all a mirage, and I still firmly believe that, but the one thing that hasn't been is goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
He may be the only thing Ranger fans can actually smile about this season. The team's offense has recently upgraded from nonexistent to putrid, the defense has been shaky, and the power play has scored on two of its last 33 opportunities—yet this team is still winning games.
The only reason for that is Lundqvist.
The Rangers still have yet to play 60 minutes in a game this season, often falling behind in games early, struggling through the second period before waking up and winning games late in the third period, overtime, or in a shootout.
It's a dangerous way to win hockey games, and it is something that needs to be corrected—but until it does, Lundqvist's play in those games is something to take note of.
When the team falls behind early, as I just mentioned, he is the only player staying focused, trying to keep the team in contention so they can have those miraculous comebacks. Without him, the Rangers may have the draft lottery in the back of their heads and not an Atlantic Division championship banner, even though it is early.
The pressure he is under on a nightly basis is something that would drive any goalie crazy, and after some of the defensive blunders that have happened in front of him, I still find it hard to believe that he hasn't pulled a gun out of his Violin case and murdered half of the Rangers' defensive corps.
Michal Rozsival has been brutal as usual, despite picking up his play in the previous few games. Wade Redden has been in a coma, and his defense had gone from steady, to shaky, and now to just downright awful.
Dmitri Kalinin also hasn't fared well either, as he is a team worst -16 (yet I laughed out loud when I saw he was a +2 in the 8-5 loss to New Jersey Friday night), with Rozsival right behind him at -13.
With the Rangers' latest debacle on Friday night, it proved that the Rangers cannot win unless Lundqvist is at his absolute best, something he was not in that game against the Devils. He gave up eight goals, and let me be the first to say that not a single one of them was his fault.
The Devils' offensive onslaught against the Rangers' soft, stick-checking defensemen pushed them right back, and they were able to take easy shots against Lundqvist. There were numerous odd man rushes against him, and he didn't stand a chance.
After the game he took the blame for the loss, something he does way too often even though losses are hardly ever his fault. When a goalie gives up eight goals and he isn't at fault, that means there's a major problem, but that's something for another article.
Also mentioned earlier was the lack of offense. Ranked near the bottom of the league in goals per game, that puts even more pressure on Lundqvist, as he knows a win is almost impossible if he surrenders more than two goals. Occasionally that added pressure does a goalie good, but night after night it could prove to be costly. Yet he remains cool under this pressure.
Another reason why he is responsible for where the Rangers are is his success in shootouts. Even though I despise them, they are a part of the game and something that all teams have to go through. The Rangers won their league-leading eighth shootout victory of the season on Saturday night (it was Lundqvist's seventh), and he remains almost unbeatable in them, with only one loss.
He has been so good that he has only given up four goals in 28 attempts. When players come down on him, he remains absolutely still, waiting for his opponent to make the first move. If a player dekes fifty times he will remain motionless, not giving a single inch, hence the reason to his immense success.
I have no reason to believe that Lundqvist's play will decline, but it won't matter much unless the Rangers change their game around. They need a steady offense and defense, and the power play needs to start clicking. "King Henrik" is the Vezina favorite right now as he should be. But should the Rangers make the playoffs, he deserves to be league MVP.
Henrik Lundqvist is 17-9-2 on the season with a 2.54 GAA and a .913 save percentage. He currently leads the NHL in wins. The Rangers play back-to-back games against Los Angeles and Anaheim Tuesday and Wednesday night. Look for him to get the rest against the Kings in that second game.
The Rangers have only three players that are not in the minus. Nikolai Zherdev leads them with a +4, while Marc Staal is the lone plus defenseman with a +3.