After allowing three goals on ten shots in Thursday night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, there’s no more denying it. The New York Rangers‘ franchise goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, is mired in the worst slump of his career. Yes, questions will persist about whether or not the Rangers should have given him a long-term extension or if he is overrated. Yes, he deserves some blame for his poor play. However, Lundqvist is also the victim of a deeper team issue.
Here are Lundqvist’s numbers on the season so far: 25 games played, a 9-14 record, a 2.70 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage. While these may not be the worst numbers of all-time, they are abysmal by Lundqvist’s standards. He is failing to make routine saves on his glove side, and teams are exposing his greatest weakness game-in and game-out — the high over-the-shoulder shot. For a team that struggles to score enough as it is, one mistake by their most important player permeates the team’s play like a disease.
The way the Rangers have to play games, however, requires Lundqvist to be 100 percent every single night. Throughout his nine-year career, the Rangers have won many games simply based on Lundqvist’s spectacular play. The reason they were able to get away with this is because they played tight defense and limited their mistakes in front of Lundqvist. Now, under Alain Vigneault, that style of play does not exist. Therefore, Lundqvist is left exposed for easy goals for the opponent. The Rangers simply do not produce enough of a backcheck and do not properly defend the puck carrier in their own zone to prevent this.
This does not excuse Lundqvist for failing to make the routine saves he needs to make, especially in key moments of games. He has only won one game since signing his new seven-year contract extension, and this is the Rangers’ worst hockey since October.
The Ranger defensemen must step up their efforts and take responsibility for the team’s struggles, for sure. However, Lundqvist, as the team’s best and most important player, needs to be the man to lift the Rangers out of their slump. They’ll especially need it when the defense in front of him fails.