The last two seasons have been inconsistent for Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers, but that can change in 2019-20.
He still showed stretches where he was the man in between the pipes who led the Blueshirts to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals, but there were also times when it looked like he was getting closer to retirement.
It’s no secret just how tough these last two years have been with trades that saw fan favorites like Mats Zuccarello and Rick Nash shipped out of town. While those moves hit the fanbase, it also hit the locker room, as evident by Lundqvist’s comments on the Zuccarello trade itself.
Those distractions around a rebuilding team, along with a lack of playing time down the stretch, made it hard for Lundqvist to ever really get in a grove after the NHL All-Star break, leaving the question, “Which Henrik Lundqvist will we see in 2019-20?”
Part of the defense for Lundqvist’s struggles over the last few years have been based on an ineptitude of the players in front of him in the defensive zone. Players like Dan Boyle, Nick Holden, Neal Pionk and Dan Girardi were heavily criticized as reasons for Lundqvist not having a chance to make a save at times.
While the criticism at times was legitimate and deserving, New York did some drastic work on the blue line to prevent these miscues from happening to begin with.
The additions of Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox alone should make it easier in goal for Lundqvist even with an adjustment and developmental period that will unfold following major additions. Even with that adjustment phase, Lundqvist and the rest of the blue line won’t have much time to figure it out because of who is in goal.
The stronger defensive core along with a future Hall of Famer should lead to more results, and if they aren’t immediate, there might be some people out there calling for Alexandar Georgiev or Igor Shestyorkin to get some time in goal.
If Lundqvist can get quality play in front of him, like he had dating back to 2011-12 when he posted a career-best 1.97 goals-against average and .930 save percentage, this is the season a “return to form” is imminent.
While he might never see numbers like that again, who’s to say hey can’t go back to what he was before the Rangers become “sellers.” Should he go back to posting a 2.48 goals-against as he did in 2015-16, the Rangers will be in a much better position to make a legitimate playoff chase and perhaps a run at the Cup.
It is not out of the question for Lundqvist to get back to the player Ranger fans have become accustomed to chanting “Hen-rik” after making a brilliant save. Just look at some of the numbers from a year ago. At even strength, Lundqvist posted a .919 save percentage, right on line with his overall save percentage from 2013-16. What resulted in a .907 save percentage for the year came from the Rangers having a poor penalty kill, resulting in a .835 save percentage while down a man.
If New York improves its penalty kill, which finished 78.2%, fifth-worst in the league, the numbers for Lundqvist will change drastically.
The biggest difference in Lundqvist’s game this year is how he will be re-energized after what has been a busy offseason for the Rangers. No longer will all of the talk be about which player is on the trade block, or if he is interested in being shipped out for another chance at Cup.
With Artemi Panarin, Kaapo Kakko and Trouba in the fold, there should be a different fire from the 37-year-old netminder. A fire that has been missing the last two years and one that has driven him throughout his career has the chance of lighting once more.
No one is expecting Henrik Lundqvist to return to the vintage Henrik Lundqvist. However, they are expecting him to put forth a consistent and more productive season than the one he showcased a year ago.
What better time would it be to do that than next year when the excitement level will be at a new high?