It is still Henrik Lundqvist’s team, even if he may still be learning the names of his new teammates.
A 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators on Thursday night may have dampened Dave Quinn’s NHL head coaching debut, but this young New York Rangers team played competitively in their season-opener. It was a brave loss to last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winner, a Nashville team that again is expected to be among the best in the NHL this season.
But while the moral victories are a nice talking point for a team that went through a seismic shift of their roster since last season, Thursday underscored that this is undoubtedly Lundqvist’s team. As he goes, so go the Rangers.
As he has been countless times over the years, Lundqvist was the star. There are new names on this team, an offseason of rebuilding and getting younger leading to a slew of new nametags in the locker room.
But Lundqvist remains a constant, a goaltender who time and time again bailed out his teammates against a solid Nashville team. Even in what is his 14th year in the league, Lundqvist looked just as agile and capable between the posts. This loss isn’t on him.
Just 90 seconds into the game, Lundqvist did well to deny Mattias Ekholm on a two-on-one, then moments later pushed aside a shot from Yannick Weber. He stopped 30 of the 32 shots that came his way.
Henrik Lundqvist speaks to John Giannone after making 30 saves in the Rangers' 3-2 loss to the Predators on Opening Night.
“Overall, I’m just happy with how I played. Technically, felt good,” Lundqvist said after the game. “Mentally, I think that also is the toughest part when you play these first kind of games and you’re in it – just to find the right type of focus. It felt good, felt like I was in a good position.”
This Rangers forwards feature 10 players under 26-years old. And this is a team that has been developed through the system with seven draft picks on the roster, and another six players who made their NHL debut under a previous system as a Ranger.
The view from 10,000 feet on this loss wasn’t bad.
It was a building block sort of game for the Rangers, who didn’t look as polished offensively and may have lacked some crispness in their movement. But they attacked the puck well and were coordinated in front of their own goal, making them a difficult team for Nashville to break down.
So while this team will largely ride on Lundqvist, especially in the early goings of the season, there is still a sense of direction as they move forward in this rebuild under Quinn.
“There was a definitely a lot of good things. I think we got better as the game moved on,” Lundqvist said.
“I think both teams, first game, we haven’t played in a week. It took us some time to get going. But once we did, I thought the skating got a lot better and we started creating a lot more. They’re a good team but at the same time we had some looks, we just got to take advantage of them. One or two there, we could have been in a tied game at the end.”