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Is it time to be worried about Henrik Lundqvist’s performances?

Bobby Bevilacqua

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Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

 

For the last 12 seasons, no matter what the rest of the Rangers team looked like, you always knew that you could rely on one thing; great goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist on a very consistent basis. But for a lot of games this season, that unfortunately hasn’t been the case for the King.

Against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, Lundqvist entered the game in the second period for Antti Raant, who left with an unspecified injury. Raanta stopped all 10 shots he faced. Lundqvist allowed five goals on 22 shots, including three goals in a span of 63 seconds. This happened with the Rangers holding a 3-2 lead, and effectively ended the game and killed whatever momentum the Rangers had.

The meltdown last night meant that Henrik Lundqvist now has an 18-11-1 record with a 2.72 GAA and a .907 save percentage. He’s finished with a GAA over 2.40 just twice in his career and has posted a save percentage below .920 just three times, all early on in his career. The numbers he has now are shocking considering his consistently good numbers throughout his career.

Lundqvist has allowed 13 goals in the last three games with a .848 save percentage, and he has surrendered 25 goals in the last 7 games for a .859 save percentage. Even in games when he is allowing just two or three goals, there have been a lot of times where those have come in games with not that many shots against.

No matter how you feel about Lundqvist or about the rest of the team, his performances and numbers have been alarming. He’s allowing more goals than usual, and more goals on fewer shots. It’s not often that you see him get beat the way he has sometimes as well. A lot of shots from the point, quite a few five-hole goals, and some soft ones that sneak through him. It’s very uncharacteristic of Lundqvist.

When looking at Lundqvist’s save percentage on low-danger and medium-danger shots, they back up the fact that he’s been letting in more bad goals. His low-danger save percentage is 97.4%, down from 99.1% last year, and his medium-danger save percentage is at a paltry 87.9%, down from 94.3% last year. He’s already allowed two more low-danger goals this season that he did last season through 65 games.

There have been 21 goalies this season who have played at least 1000 minutes with a better low-danger save percentage, and 26 goalies have a better save percentage at medium-danger. Needless to say, that’s pretty bad.

In years past, Henrik Lundqvist has often led the league in a stat called Goals Saved Above Average, which accounts to how many extra goals a netminder will keep out of the net compared to the league-average goalie. Last year, Hank led the league in that category. This year, he’s just 23rd among goalies who have played 1000 minutes.

There has definitely been an uptick in bad goals allowed this season for Lundqvist, which is probably the biggest reason for the panic amongst Rangers fans. But there are times where he looks out of position, or caught too deep in his crease, or moving around too much, or he’s having trouble with his reads and looks off-balance. That could be a breakdown of fundamentals, which can be fixed with some tinkering by Benoit Allaire, but it’s also probably some lost confidence. Either way, Lundqvist has to get back to basics and start playing his game again.

There is some explanation for the sharp downturn in statistical effectiveness for Lundqvist this season.

The main reason is the bad defense, Somehow, the Rangers have managed to be worse this year than they were last year on defense. Dan Girardi is still pretty bad, Kevin Klein’s effectiveness has plummeted, and Marc Staal was about average. The lack of ability to make breakout passes and transition leads to more pressure on Lundqvist, and the constant missed assignments and blown coverage mean more wide-open chances against him. A lot of the goals Henrik has given up have come from the right side of the ice, which isn’t surprising because that’s where Girardi and Klein play.

Lundqvist is facing an increased amount of high-danger shots this season, which are obviously more likely to go in. This is a product of poor defensive coverage, wide open skaters in front of the net, etc.

On top of that, Lundqvist also faces an absurdly high 3.26 shots on the rush per 60 minutes. Only seven goalies face more rush shots, and it’s about 1.5 more rush shots than he faced last year. That’s a lot more breakaway chances per game, and rush shots frequently are a product of passes across Steve Valiquette’s Royal Road, which are most likely to go in. The high-danger shots and rush shots faced are not Lundqvist’s fault, but he gets punished for it. The defense’s shortcomings are a definitely a factor Lundqvist’s statistical decline.

A lot of people argue that the defense isn’t a good argument because both Raanta and Lundqvist play with the same defense, but Raanta’s numbers are far better. I have mixed feelings about this. To an extent, I agree. Raanta is tasked with making up for the same bad defense and has done a superior job. It’s not like the players get better for him. But on the other hand, Lundqvist faces 10.4% more high-danger shots per 60 minutes than Raanta does, so the workloads aren’t equal. However, that doesn’t excuse the bad goals Hank has given up more of.

Let’s give Lundqvist credit where it’s deserved however. His high-danger save percentage is 83.3%, which is 1.7% higher than last year’s league average. Despite facing more of those dangerous shots, Lundqvist is saving them at the rate of an elite goaltender. He’s also been spectacular on the penalty kill. This is partially due to better play from the forwards and some defenseman shorthanded, but Lundqvist has been a big reason for 5% increase on penalty kill efficiency.

Henrik Lundqvist has been notorious for slow starts. It happened last season before he eventually wound up carrying an awful defense to the playoffs. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been near that same level this season, and it’s getting a bit late in the season to call this a “slow start.”

So should you worry? Yes, a little bit. The fact that Lundqvist is giving up far more low and medium danger goals is alarming and it’s something that needs to get better. There are a fair amount of goals that are really on him. But he’s always had a better statistical second half and tends to play better from about this point of the season and beyond, which is when the games really start to matter.

So put away your pitchforks and stop calling for Antti Raanta to be the full time starter. The reality is that we are looking at a 35 year-old goaltender likely out of the prime years of his career and being tasked with bailing out a truly awful defensive group. If the defense doesn’t improve and keeps giving up a lot of quality chances, it’ll be hard for Lundqvist to get much better. It all starts there.

Personally, I think we will see an improvement. Lundqvist always picks up his play when the games matter the most and tends to turn things around late in the season. I do worry a bit that father time is catching up to the King, but I don’t think he is going to be a sub .910 save percentage goalie for long. That’s just not the goalie he is, and from watching him for years, there’s no doubt that he can will himself to play better and carry the team.

Henrik Lundqvist does need to find a way to work out the kinks and get better. Too many low and medium-danger shots are going in and the Rangers need a more consistent performance from their star goalie. Whether it’s working more with Benoit Allaire or getting even more starts (Lundqvist thrives in heavy workloads), this situation needs to get sorted out relatively soon. Otherwise, Alain Vigneault might need to make the coaching decision to really start playing Raanta a lot more.

All stats from corsica.hockey and hockeyviz.com

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Posted on January 16, 2017, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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