The 2018-19 season showcased signs of great progress for the New York Rangers, especially at the goaltending position.
The only conceivable question year in, year out was, “Who would be his backup?”
Entering training camp, that same question surrounded the team especially considering how there was no veteran netminder like Antti Raanta/Ondrej Pavelec or an established backup in Cam Talbot. This year, New York deployed a competition between rookie Alexandar Georgiev, AHL veteran Marek Mazanec, and former Montreal Canadien’s prospect Dustin Tokarski. All three shared one thing in common: lack of NHL experience.
Ultimately, the job would be handed to Georgiev, giving the Rangers their first rookie backup since Talbot in the 2013-14 season, a task not easy for anyone let alone a 23-year-old player who had only seen half a season in the AHL a year prior. But Georgiev surprised everyone in a year which was designed for players to step up and surprise. He and Henrik Lundqvist would end up splitting starts while answering some of the Rangers questions at the backup position.
Grades are determined based on impact to the team, performance and consistency. Some players might have an incomplete due to the fact that they left us wanting more or had their opportunities taken away.
When you look at the generic numbers for Henrik Lundqvist, you can’t help but feel disappointed considering what the future Hall of Famer has proven he can do. For the first time in his career, he failed to reach the 20-win plateau while posting a career worse .907 save percentage and 3.08 goals-against-average. Simply put, the numbers are not close to the standards he’s established throughout his illustrious 14-year career.
Even with the disappointing numbers, it wasn’t all bad for the 37-year-old netminder. His start to 2018-19 led some to think that he would hurt the Rangers draft lottery chances. Through Christmas, he posted a .920 save percentage bailing out a struggling defense like he’s done so often before. He even was selected to represent the Rangers at the All-Star Game where he picked up a shutout.
But the success Lundqvist saw in the first half of the season disappeared in the second half which was extremely tough for him. He was public about how the trade rumors of Mats Zuccarello was taking a toll on him, while he continually had to help bail out a defense core who never seemed to find consistency. His appearances towards the end of the year were minimal and in the 16 games he played, he would only two of those starts.
All of the struggles aside, Lundqvist still was able to put up respectable numbers if you take a deeper look.
For the year, he posted a .919 save percentage at even strength but struggled while the opposition was on the power play. While down a man, Lundqvist posted a .835 save percentage ending up in his numbers taking a significant dip. If you take out the power play goals, it was the same old Lundqvist fans have been used to seeing.
Rookie netminder Alexandar Georgiev was really one of the bright spots in the Rangers long and tough season, but it didn’t start that way. After winning the job out of training camp, Georgiev was shelled in his first game allowing seven goals vs. Carolina in their first storm surge of 2018-19. It left everyone questioning whether or not first-year head coach David Quinn made the right call going with the rookie.
As the year went on, Georgiev split time between Hartford and New York to keep seeing consistent minutes. Oddly enough, he struggled during his time in the AHL but would eventually turn it on at the NHL level. It all started on a Sunday night in February vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs where Georgiev would make 55 saves in a Rangers 4-1 win over an extremely talented young team. In the 14 games following that start, he would go on some tear.
During that span, he went on to post a .924 save percentage where he would go on to put up a 6-4-4 record giving the Rangers something to think about with their goaltending situation. Georgiev’s play led him to see the bulk of starts down the stretch in favor of Henrik Lundqvist who simply just did not have it to close out the year.
Georgiev’s play down the stretch solidified him as a legitimate backup goalie in this league with potential to become a starter a fear years down the road. In 2019-20 he will be right back in the conversation to be the backup netminder along with top prospect Igor Shesterkin who is making his way from Russia to North America. Thanks to Georgiev’s impressive rookie campaign, he should be considered the favorite for that position and the Rangers will find themselves in an interesting situation moving forward.