The question isn’t so much whether or not Henrik Lundqvist can handle the heavy burden his teammates have placed on his shoulders; because maybe he can.
No, the question is whether he should have to face that kind of pressure and whether the Rangers can figure a way to take some of it off of him.
But the plan was for the workload to come in terms of games and minutes played, not in shots faced, and dangerous shots at that.
So far, after a slow start by the goalie and his teammates, Lundqvist has answered the challenge positively and in fact, in many cases, gone above and beyond. He stole a point by making 45 saves on 48 shots (he stopped 39-of-40 shots at even strength and all 22 he faced in the second period) of a shootout loss to the Devils last week.
On Saturday, before heading into the holiday break, Lundqvist nearly got the Rangers another point against Toronto.
So the Rangers need to clean up the way they handle the puck on their side of the blue line and red line. They need to fix some things in their defensive play, and make life a bit easier on their goalies as they play their final 46 games, starting Wednesday against Washington.
All that aside, how ridiculous is it for teams to return from a three-day break and play a game without a day of practice?
Anyway, Lundqvist has been fabulous as the Rangers went on a 16-5-2 roll before the loss to Toronto, and the team in front of him was mighty good for a lot of that stretch. But it has also left its goalies to fend for themselves at times. Vigneault has started to hold veterans accountable too, scratching Brendan Smith for six games earlier and benching Kevin Shattenkirk and Mika Zibanejad, respectively, during the last two games.
Lundqvist lost an 11-game home winning streak Saturday (second longest in franchise history to Davey Kerr’s 14 in 1939-40). He has made 30 or more saves in five straight starts and 7-of-9. For his career, he’s been darn good when facing heavy fire – in 24 career games in which he’s made 40 or more saves he’s 13-3-8, 1.72, .960 with four shutouts.
He has certainly embraced the workload in terms of starts – he’s started 31 of the team’s first 36 games – and last week spoke about how he approached the anticipated workload.
“I feel really good,” Lundqvist said. “I think the way I take care of myself right now as I am getting older – the way I eat, the way I sleep, the way I prepare – I try to do everything I can to stay on top of my game. I feel like the team is playing really well and that’s helpful. I can focus on the shooter a lot. It’s a big thing for me to commit to the shooter a lot more, feeling that support from the guys around me. I think the last month and a half I have been feeling really good.”
That was before the last two games, the Toronto game clearly frustrating him as he smashed his stick against the goalpost after Auston Matthews’ uncontested goal.
Yes, he’s the Rangers’ best and most important player and he’s back at the top of his game, capable of heisting victories, or at least points. But he sure could use more help as the season goes on, and his teammates know it.