Henrik Lundqvist

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Hartnett: Rangers Need Big Response From Henrik Lundqvist This Season

Sean Hartnett
September 10, 2019 - 1:23 pm
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The Rangers’ goaltending situation heading into the 2019-20 season can be summed up in a singular question: How will Henrik Lundqvist respond?

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We’ve seen the incredible heights of Lundqvist’s heyday and more recently, a frustrated and aging netminder done in by a porous defense.

Lundqvist unquestionably performed as the league’s most outstanding and most consistent shot-stopper during an 11-year stretch between 2005 and 2016. From his 2005-06 rookie campaign and through the 2015-16 season, his aggregate save percentage was .921 and he led the NHL with 59 shutouts. Over that same period, his playoff save percentage was .922.

In his three most recent seasons, his aggregate save percentage has fallen to .911, with last season’s mark of .907 representing a career-worst. Observing those numbers in isolation would lead any casual observer to conclude that Lundqvist’s career is in freefall – but an aging, regressing blue line that eventually evolved into an inexperienced, rebuilding unit forced No. 30 into a tremendous workload.

The Rangers bled shots over this three-year stretch, finishing third-worst in the NHL with an average of 33.1 shots against per game. Only the Buffalo Sabres (33.3 SA/GP) and Toronto Maple Leafs (33.3) fared worse by a sliver.

Last season, the Rangers ranked third-worst in the NHL with a -381 shot differential. A season earlier, the Blueshirts finished last overall with a -360 shot differential. Over a three-year stretch, the Rangers ranked last in shot attempt differential at -1505. Their all-situation shot attempt percentage (Corsi) of 46.64 over this three-year juncture also ranked dead last.

No goaltender, no matter how talented, succeeds under these circumstances.

The arrival of Jacob Trouba as a key, all-situation first pair defenseman who drives offense should help make Lundqvist’s life easier. Last month, NHL Network ranked Trouba as the 15th best defenseman in the league.

Trouba’s influence, combined with Brady Skjei and Tony DeAngelo entering their peak years and the promise of Adam Fox, could change the Rangers’ blue line fortunes in 2019-20. For more on that topic, check back for tomorrow’s column on the Rangers’ defensive outlook heading into the new season.

If the Rangers’ blueliners do their part by protecting the fort and establishing offensive zone time, Lundqvist will be given the chance to have a late-career resurgence at age 37.

Backup Alexandar Georgiev shined at the tail-end of last season, finishing with a .929 save percentage in his final 17 appearances after opening the campaign with a .895 save percentage in the season’s first 16 games. Over parts of two seasons, he’s appeared in 43 games and maintained a .915 save percentage. Though that is a small sample, it’s encouraging how well he’s played given the Rangers’ recurrent defensive issues during his introduction to NHL life.

In an ideal world, Georgiev will spell Lundqvist to keep the Rangers’ star netminder fresh and able to perform at his highest level. Should Lundqvist’s troubles of 2018-19 spiral into this season, Georgiev could be ushered into a more significant role.

Russian super-prospect Igor Shesterkin is likely to start the season in AHL Hartford after putting up impressive KHL numbers. The 23-year-old posted a .935 save percentage and 1.68 goals-against average in 117 career KHL regular-season games and a .919 save percentage and 1.91 goals-against average in 16 KHL playoff games.

Shesterkin has the ability to be Lundqvist’s eventual heir and could eventually unseat Georgiev once he adjusts to the subtleties of the North American game and proves himself in Hartford.

At some point in the coming years, Shesterkin vs. the Islanders’ prized goaltending prospect Ilya Sorokin will make for a spirited Metro area net-minding rivalry.

But for now, in 2019, that net belongs to Lundqvist and the Rangers need a big response from their franchise goalie.

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