NEW YORK — Every team has one; and every year the league awards one player with the Hart Trophy to recognize his importance to his team. Well, we may only be a quarter of the way into the 2015-16 season, but New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has repeatedly given the Rangers and the league a reason to be thinking MVP.
Last night at Madison Square Garden was just another example of what has come to be the norm: Lundqvist carried his team to another win. Against the Nashville Predators, Lundqvist stopped 31 shots to record his second shutout of the season and to keep the Rangers’ home-ice winning streak (currently at 9 games) alive.
Right now, Lundqvist leads the league in save percentage with .946 and in wins with 12. Due to his play, his team leads in goals against per game with 1.76.
These numbers from Lundqvist are nothing new. We have seen him excel at the game for many years; carrying his team on his back. It’s his job. It’s what he is supposed to do. But at some point the rest of the team really needs to pick up the slack.
Yes, the Rangers are winning and they are one of the hottest teams in the league of late. They find ways to win. They play good hockey. But now they need to start playing smart hockey.
In Monday night’s game against Nashville, Lundqvist was tested with 25 shots in the first two periods, while his team was only able to muster seven against the formidable Pekka Rinne. How can that be? Well the Rangers didn’t get in the passing lanes and gave the Preds six minutes of power play time in the first period. Lucky for New York, Lundqvist was there.
Lundqvist knows he isn’t perfect. He doesn’t expect himself or his team to play a perfect game, but at some point things are going to shift. I believe in Lundqvist’s talent, but to be able to continue carrying his workload day in and day out for the rest of the regular season and then into the postseason is just ludicrous. It just won’t happen. And the likelihood of the Rangers bringing home the hardware in June starts to diminish.
We may only be in November, but of course June is on everybody’s mind. The Rangers can make it there, they just have to fix the kinks in their game. Do they need to make any drastic changes? No, of course not. Why fix something that isn’t broken?
But there comes a point when Lundqvist needs to be vocal and tell his team to lock it up. He has bailed out his team and saved them from embarrassment on too many occasions to count and now it is time for the rest of the Rangers to follow suit. Their defense needs to be tighter in front of him and their offense has to offer him some breathing room. They know how to do it. Now, they have to do it on a more consistent basis.
Things are looking up. Rick Nash has now recorded four goals in two games, they scored on the power play, and their penalty kill has been phenomenal. The pieces are coming together. The Rangers just need to tighten everything up a little bit to give Lundqvist an easier load because his longevity and health are two very important factors in the Rangers recipe for success.