Sunday, April 13, 2014

N.Y. Rangers: My Kingdom For A Cup


NEW YORK RANGERS: New Coach, New System, Same Condition - Henrik Lundqvist Must Bare The Weight Of Blueshirt Nation On His Shoulders.

On Saturday, Henrik Lundqvist completed his 9th full season in the National Hockey League.  He compiled a 33-24-6 record in 64 games.  Henrik led the NHL with 24 victories last season, but that came during a lockout shortened regular season.  Otherwise, Henrik, 32, has now surpassed 30 victories 8 times in his career.  Martin Brodeur owns the record with 14 seasons of 30+ victories.

If you remember, the regular season didn't start that well for Henrik and his kings men.  They were forced to start the regular season on a seven game road trip in which they only compiled a 2-5 record.  The Rangers went 8-11 in November, and 10-15 in their first 25 games, while allowing an average of 4 goals per game.

After their poor start, things started smoothing out by mid December.  That the team finished the season with a 45-31-6 final record and 96 points, speaks extremely well of Henrik's, and the team's recovery under Alain Vigneault over the final 57 games of the season.

This was obviously a milestone season for Henrik Lundqvist.  He achieved his 300th career victory, and won his second Olympic gold medal as net minder for Team Sweden.  He then went on to break Mike Richter's club record to become the New York Rangers all-time leader in victories.  Shortly thereafter, he broke Ed Giacomin's record, becoming the club's all-time leader in career shutouts.

While a poor start pollute his numbers somewhat, Henrik nonetheless finished with a .920 SV%, and a 2.36 GAA.  Both rival his worst postings over the last five seasons.

His career best 1.97 GAA, not coincidentally, came two years ago in the season New York made their glacier-like grind into the Conference finals under John Tortorella.  Of course, Tortorella was much more mindful to minimize traffic in front of Lundqvist.  Coach Vigneault, and his physically-lite squad, have allowed much more chaos and contact in the crease than Torts would ever tolerate.

The numbers speak for themselves.  Under Torts, the Rangers won 51 games, and captured their first division crown since the '93-'94 season.  Henrik posted a career best 39-18 record that season, with a career best .930% save percentage - good enough to earn his first Vezina Trophy.  In his last season under Torts, Lundqvist posted a similarly impressive .926% save percentage, and a 2.05 GAA.

In my lifetime, three Rangers goalies have competed for Lord Stanley's Cup.  Mike Richter played in two conference finals, and of course, won a Stanley Cup.  He is the lone Cup winner.  Between 1967 and 1974, Ed Giacomin participated in 5 semi-finals, and competed for one Stanley Cup. John Davidson also advanced into a pair of semi-finals, and competed for a Cup in the '78-'79 season.

However, Henrik Lundqvist is still joined with John Vanbiesbrouck, as Rangers Vezina Trophy recipients, who were stopped short of a Stanley Cup appearance in the conference finals.

Henrik's '13-'14 .920 SV% exactly matches his career playoff save percentage.  His 2.28 career playoff GAA is slightly above his career 2.26 regular season GAA.  In 67 playoff games with the Rangers, dating back to Tom Renney, Lundqvist owns a below .500, 30-37 career record.

This will be Henrik Lundqvist's eighth playoff appearance.  A lack of overall scoring short circuited the Rangers two season ago in the conference finals versus the Devils.  This time, the Rangers have Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis on the roster.  In name, history, and deed, they are considered difference makers.

Over the last three seasons, the Rangers team defense has ranked 3rd, and 4th, under John Tortorellaa, and 4th again this season under Coach Alain Vigneault.  That said, and despite the loss of Chris Kreider, having Nash and St. Louis should theoretically improve the Rangers scoring this time around, as well as their overall chances of gaining Cup success.  No?

Obviously, Martin St. Louis was a trade deadline acquisition.  He's played 19 regular season games for the Rangers, but only tallied one goal and 9 assists.  For Tampa, Ryan Callahan finished with 6 goals and 5 assists.

That's not the only Blueshirt anomaly.  During the '11-'12 season, the Rangers ranked 13th in the NHL with 226 goals.  In last season's shortened season, the Rangers scored 130 goals, which ranked 12th.  This season, the Rangers scored 218 goals, dropping them to 18th in the league.

Alain Vigneault certainly improved the Rangers power play, yet the team took a curious, subtle step backwards.  At even strength, they palled in comparison to Tortorella's Rangers.

Over the years, so much of the Rangers fate has been placed in Henrik Lundqvist's hands.  Time and again, he's been asked to outshine his team's greater deficiencies.  In recent years, he has come under increasing media scrutiny for not being able to carry the Rangers on his back to ultimate Stanley Cup glory.  Instead, these days more is being made of three 1st round eliminations, and three 2nd round eliminations.

This season is no different.  Once again, King Henrik is being asked to reign over Lord Stanley's tournament, this time, with the hope Glen Sather sufficiently improved the Rangers scoring potential.

However, since getting ousted by the Devils two fateful post-seasons ago, Glen Sather has systematically eradicated the team's overall toughness and grit.

Everything comes at a price.  The Stanley Cup Playoffs are no different.

For Henrik Lundqvist, there's also a legacy at stake.  At this point, I'm sure he'd gladly trade in his kingdom for a Cup.


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