Henrik Lundqvist needs to be better, but his defense needs to step up too

Lundqvist watches game winner slip by 12/1/14 TB (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

Lundqvist and Girardi watch the game winner slip by 12/1/14 TB (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

Last season, I would entertain the argument that Lundqvist needed to be a better playoff goalie. After his remarkable run to the Final, I put that to bed. Had he received more goal support and an interference call against L.A. – he could’ve been the MVP of the post season.

One argument I would never entertain is that he’s an overrated goaltender. That would get you shut down right away. This season, in similar light, I refuse to even consider that Lundqvist is regressing as per a recent article in the NY Post.

[su_quote cite=”Larry Brooks” url=”http://nypost.com/2014/12/02/lundqvists-head-scratching-regression-is-killing-the-rangers/”]But the first two months of 2014-15 haven’t been close to good enough from Lundqvist, who has surrendered too many unsightly goals and has had way too many borderline nights for a team that isn’t good enough to overcome mediocrity in nets. Lundqvist’s save percentage dropped to .905, 31st in the 30-team league among goaltenders with 10 or more starts after Monday’s misadventure in which he surrendered five goals on 20 shots — including a back-breaking softie for the winner — in the Blueshirts’ 6-3 empty-net-abetted defeat by the Lightning at the Garden that marked the team’s third loss in three games within 15 days to conference-leading Tampa Bay.[/su_quote]

Can we all stop and recognize that he also has 4 shutouts on the season. His career high was 11 in 68 games (2010-11) and he could be well on his way to breaking that this season. Now, while he ranks 31st among goaltenders with a .905 save percentage today, he ranks  21st at even strength (.917 sv%)*. Of course that isn’t anything to get excited about but it’s an indicator that there are other issues.

One of those big issues – the Rangers penalty killing. NY ranks 19th at an 80% efficiency rate and has given up 16 power play goals this season. In contrast, NY was 3rd last year at 85.3. So what is Lundqvist’s save percentage against while shorthanded? This year it is a paltry .833, last season it was .895%.

The other issue, a really soft group of defenders.

rYAN callahan

Ryan Callahan goes down on his own to celebrate in front of Lundqvist (Getty)

Sure, Hank has had a hard time finding the puck in some games this season, but where’s the help from his defense? Against the Tampa Bay Lightning, I watched Bolt after Bolt drive the net and screen Lundqvist virtually untouched. On the game tying tally by Matt Carle, he was left all alone to Lundqvist’s right. The game winning power play goal by Brett Connolly, the Lightning played keep away with the puck and found the kid all alone in the middle, who then snapped it against the grain. Where was a Ranger to hit these guys?

These are just two examples of how the defense has let Lundqvist down from time to time. No, it isn’t every game but there have been far too many soft nights by the Rangers. A quick glance at the top 50 hitters in the league shows only 2 Rangers make the list. One is Dan Girardi (24th, 66 hits) and the other is a player no one wants in the lineup, Tanner Glass (31st, 68 hits).

Player
Pos
Team
Hits
Hits Per Game
Hits Per 60 Min
1
Matt Martin
LW
NYI
118
4.72
26.42
2
Cal Clutterbuck
RW
NYI
107
4.46
21.05
3
Tommy Wingels
RW
SJ
99
3.81
13.72
4
Leo Komarov
C
TOR
99
4.30
16.45
5
Brooks Orpik
D
WAS
92
3.83
10.64
6
Chris Neil
RW
OTT
85
3.54
19.69
7
Milan Lucic
LW
BOS
84
3.23
11.53
8
Roman Polak
D
TOR
83
3.95
11.24
9
Nicolas Deslauriers
LW
BUF
83
3.32
18.11
10
Alex Ovechkin
RW
WAS
78
3.25
9.44
11
Lance Bouma
LW
CGY
77
3.08
14.76
12
Robyn Regehr
D
LA
76
3.45
10.73
13
Ryan Reaves
RW
STL
76
3.30
27.64
14
Radko Gudas
D
TB
75
3.41
12.00
15
Alexei Emelin
D
MON
75
3.13
8.57
16
Simon Despres
D
PIT
73
3.17
13.56
17
Dion Phaneuf
D
TOR
71
2.96
7.62
18
Blake Comeau
LW
PIT
71
3.09
12.60
19
Zac Rinaldo
LW
PHI
71
3.09
21.73
20
Derek MacKenzie
C
FLA
70
3.04
13.77
21
Matt Hendricks
LW
EDM
70
3.04
14.48
22
Chris Kunitz
LW
PIT
69
3.00
9.83
23
Dustin Byfuglien
RW
WPG
69
2.76
8.35
24
Dan Girardi
D
NYR
68
2.83
6.85
25
Marcus Foligno
LW
BUF
67
3.53
14.89
26
Troy Brouwer
RW
WAS
67
2.79
9.24
27
Travis Hamonic
D
NYI
66
3.14
8.98
28
Nate Thompson
C
ANH
66
2.54
11.31
29
Brayden McNabb
D
LA
66
2.64
9.52
30
Jan Hejda
D
COL
66
2.64
7.43
31
Tanner Glass
LW
NYR
66
3.14
18.42
32
Devante Smith-Pelly
RW
ANH
64
2.78
10.79
33
Dustin Brown
LW
LA
64
2.56
9.28
34
Nick Foligno
LW
CLS
64
2.78
8.89
35
Mike Weber
D
BUF
64
2.91
10.52
36
Mark Borowiecki
D
OTT
63
3.32
12.81
37
Ryan Kesler
C
ANH
63
2.42
7.33
38
Cody McLeod
LW
COL
62
2.48
15.76
39
Tim Gleason
D
CAR
62
2.82
10.42
40
Andrew Ladd
LW
WPG
62
2.48
7.41
41
Adam Lowry
LW
WPG
60
2.50
12.20
42
Scott Hartnell
LW
CLS
60
2.50
8.22
43
David Backes
C
STL
59
2.57
8.29
44
Matt Beleskey
LW
ANH
58
2.23
8.92
45
Mark Stuart
D
WPG
58
2.32
7.09
46
Evander Kane
LW
WPG
58
3.41
10.39
47
Shea Weber
D
NSH
58
2.42
5.41
48
Jarret Stoll
C
LA
57
2.28
8.51
49
David Clarkson
RW
TOR
57
2.38
9.40
50
Zemgus Girgensons
C
BUF
57
2.28
7.42

Tanner Glass is 2nd on the team in hits but everyone wants him out of the lineup (Getty)

Tanner Glass is 2nd on the team in hits but everyone wants him out of the lineup (Getty)

The next Ranger to pop up is Chris Kreider at 95 with 45 hits. So that’s 1 defenseman and 2 Ranger forwards in the top 100. Now stop and realize that forwards get a majority of their hits forechecking in the offensive zone, you know – where Hank isn’t. The next NYR defenseman to appear is Kevin Klein with 42 hits, good for 123rd on the list. 99 spots off of Girardi!

Ryan McDonagh’s return will certainly help in the hit and defense department, but he’s still trying to find his game. Right now, the rest of the Blueshirts need to start taking the body and allow Henrik to see and find pucks more easily.

Henrik can take all the heat he wants, but the Rangers defensemen need to be harder to play against. Yes, the Blueshirt blue-line is built on skating and positioning, which is great against the rush. However, once the puck gets in the zone and the cycle starts, they need to win more board battles and start putting more opposition forwards on their keisters in front of Lundqvist.

Challenge issued defense – step up!

*Even strength save percentage was run eliminating any goaltender that has played less than 10 games.