The Rangers have been the beneficiary of incredibly solid goaltending from both of their tendys this year. There has been rampant debate on the interwebs about the league’s best tandem between the Blueshirts, Bruins, Canucks and Blues (Jaro Halak’s early season struggles notwithstanding). The biggest difference between the Rangers and the rest of the field is that they employ a traditional starter/backup arrangement, while the rest of the field has a starter/emerging starter set up. This makes the debate a little murky, but regardless, Rangers’ fans can feel very good about the men guarding the pipes this season. To the grades….
Martin Biron– I’m normally a very tough grader when it comes to goalie performance but the Rangers tandem is really tying my hands for the midterm grades. Marty has been a revelation in relief so far this season. His 2.06 GAA and .922 save % are high quality for a starter, much less a backup. His 8-2-0 record also bears out how well he has played behind Hank thus far. He plays an incredibly calm style, with very little excess movement, which helps keep his defense calm in front of him. He may not be the flashiest or the most athletic goalie in the league, but he is a rock back there. At only 10 games started through almost the first half, it would benefit Torts to get Marty a little more time down the stretch run if only to make sure Hank is fresh for the playoffs. Grade: A
Henrik Lundqvist– What more is there really to say about Henrik Lundqvist? At 29 years old he is coming into his physical prime. Goalies tend to mature late (not that Hank has been anything less than stellar his first six years, but those questioning his step forward this year seem to feel he is likely to regress to his career averages), which would explain the serious increase in almost all statistical categories. It appears Hank is really putting it all together right as this team heads into it’s window to contend. He currently sports a 1.89 GAA and a staggering .939 save percentage. I generally tend not to put a ton of stock in either of these stats as they are very context specific, but wow. Hank is the backbone of this team and with the way he has played in the first half, the sky is the limit for the King. Grade: A+
I just wanted to make one final point about the pace that the Rangers’ keepers are on this year. I have been reading quite a bit of conjecture about how they are likely to experience some regression between the pipes, and while it is certainly possible, I find it more likely the pace continues. Marty, even at 34, is not cut from the true backup cloth. He still could start on a non-contending team, and bringing that ability and experience to a backup role has been tremendous for his production. I don’t see an outlier here. His stats at the end of the year may not be as shiny as they stand today, but I don’t foresee a substantial decline in the quality of his play.
As for Hank, his consistency is what has made him a top 5 NHL goalie the past few years. It seems now he is ready to take a big step forward and couple that consistency with elite production. While there are several goalies having fantastic years so far, it would not surprise me in the slightest if this year the King takes home some serious hardware.