Hartnett: Final Grades For Rangers Goaltenders

Sean Hartnett
April 23, 2019 - 1:49 pm
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Some Rangers took impressive strides forward during David Quinn’s first season behind the bench, while others met expectations and some struggled to play their best hockey. Tuesday’s column focuses on how the goaltenders fared in 2018-19. The coaching staff and general manager Jeff Gorton will be graded on Thursday.

Alexandar Georgiev – It’s not easy to succeed as a backup goaltender in the NHL. Sporadic starting opportunities make it difficult for backups to find a rhythm. Add on top of this a rebuilding Rangers’ blue line that was learning a new system under a first-year coach, and Georgiev faced a high degree of difficulty in his first full season as Henrik Lundqvist’s understudy.

Limited opportunities contributed to a .895 save percentage before the All-Star break. When January turned to February, Georgiev saw more regular action and didn’t disappoint. The 23-year-old finished February with a .915 save percentage and sparkled in March with a .935 save percentage. He ended April by saving 75 of 80 shots against to the tune of a .938 save percentage.

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It’s become clear that the Rangers are in safe hands whenever Georgiev is called upon. His role could increase next season if a 37-year-old Lundqvist underperforms or requires more rest. Georgiev will be pushed by prized prospect Igor Shestyorkin during training camp and the preseason. At every turn of his NHL career, Georgiev has thrived with added pressure. To finish the season with a .914 save percentage in front of a rebuilding defense that lacked genuine first-pairing talents was nothing short of remarkable. FINAL GRADE:  B+

Rangers goalie Alexandar Georgiev makes a save against the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 14, 2018, at Madison Square Garden.

Henrik Lundqvist – The 2018-19 season was the most challenging campaign of Lundqvist’s 14-year career. His NHL-record streak of 13 seasons of 20 or more wins ended. He finished the final stretch of mid-March to April with six consecutive losses. His 18 wins were the fewest of his career and his .907 save percentage was a career-worst.

Yet it all started so brightly. A .917 save percentage in October was followed by a .924 save percentage in November. Lundqvist was selected to the All-Star Game for the fifth time in his career. At the time of that announcement, Lundqvist led Metropolitan Division goaltenders in saves – highlighting the pressure he was facing and how well he was coping with a work-in-progress blue line.

In the second half, Lundqvist morphed into a replacement-level goaltender and an increasingly frustrated figure. The smashing of his stick over the crossbar during a 6-5 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals Feb. 24 summed up his season in a singular image.

The 2018-19 season was always going to be a tough pill for Lundqvist to swallow. This is a netminder who is accustomed to chasing after divisional titles and competing for the ultimate prize. He was challenged in ways that he never had been in 14 years, and the toll of losing clearly affected his mindset.

As mentioned earlier, Lundqvist could see his minutes trimmed in 2019-20 – and that wouldn’t be a bad thing. He started in 25 of the first 32 games of Quinn’s first season. It will be important for Quinn to manage Lundqvist’s workload carefully next season to guard against burnout while ensuring more A-level efforts. On his best days, No. 30 is still an unquestionably elite goaltender. If the young defensemen playing in front of him can take strides forward and valuable pieces are added in the offseason, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Lundqvist return to form next season. FINAL GRADE: C+

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