It’s no secret that Henrik Lundqvist is the Rangers’ best player.
But the four-time All-Star is also the team’s best penalty killer. His value is tough to measure, especially when we view his shorthanded save percentage. At even strength, Lundqvist is a career .930 goaltender and leads the NHL in this category with a .942 percentage this season. When shorthanded, that number falls to .882 for his career and a .834 percentage this season, ranking 49th in the league.
When your best player is struggling on the power play, it is likely because he’s been exposed to high-quality slot-line chances. It has had a huge impact on his save percentage.
The usual breakdowns that occur when down a man are things that are out of the control of the goaltender.
Backup Antti Raanta has also struggled in shorthanded scenarios. The Rangers could manipulate the opposition into the areas of Lundqvist’s strengths to improve when shorthanded.
Lundqvist is extremely dominant when he can establish clear sight of the puck, and read and react accordingly. This is evident in his save percentage on clear-sighted shots. When we remove shots recorded from zone entries off the rush and those fully dependent on zone play, Lundqvist becomes virtually unbeatable. Of these 282 clear-sighted shots recorded, Lundqvist has only allowed three goals. Off these shots, he has only created six rebounds and two rebound goals.
Lundqvist is also dominant on net rushes, shots that are generated from below the goal line. Of the 22 net rushes that have occurred from the lower left area of the defensive zone, Lundqvist has surrendered zero goals and no rebounds. With the advent of better post play through the VH and the reverse VH, scoring from these types of scenarios becomes dependent on goaltender error.
Even quick same side slot passes lack the danger that initiates the Rangers’ play when shorthanded. Lundqvist’s head rotation is limited to 90 degrees and this allows him to set his feet, depth and angle. The opposition’s power play has tried this 29 times and Lundqvist only surrendered three goals.
If the Rangers’ defense allows Lundqvist to take the extra attacker, leaving the remaining four skaters to defend against backside pressure, they greatly increase their chance at shorthanded success.
Allowing opposition skaters to move into Lundqvist’s backside blind spot is where the Rangers find the most trouble when shorthanded. When a slot line pass is completed, it forces Lundqvist to create a 180-degree head turn and a full body rotation. This compromises his vision and while he re-acquires the sight line and the adjustment it requires, he becomes vulnerable.
Even a goaltender like Lundqvist whose box control on these routes is exceptional is reduced to below-replacement level. Twenty-nine passes across the slot line resulted in 13 goals while shorthanded this season. One goal on every 2.2 shots and just over a 50/50 proposition as Lundqvist’s save percentage is only .552.
When the Rangers move their defense back toward the middle of the net, they can force the offense to initiate a lower percentage opportunity and take away the passing lanes for the vertical slot line feed. It can also provide rebound clearance should one occur.
In the playoffs, teams can survive with sub-par offensive special teams, but it is almost impossible to survive sub-par defensive special teams.
And the Rangers greatest strength on special teams is their greatest player, the playoffs-tested Henrik Lundqvist.