Last week I covered Martin Biron, and now we get to the main event of our Style Analysis series: Henrik Lundqvist. The same format applies, five categories covering Stance, Crease Movement/Depth, Equipment, Puck Handling Ability, and Exploitable Weaknesses. Let’s get to it…
Hank is a very unique goaltender. The minutia of his style is unlike anything I have ever seen before. He has an incredibly wide stance, to the point where I find myself wondering how he keeps his balance when moving laterally. He has a fairly deep crouch and holds his gloves high. The amount of hip/knee strength the man possesses is something to behold. All of these idiosyncrasies give Hank one of the widest butterflies in the league and an unparalleled ability to guard the bottom third of the net. Shooters have told members of the media that there isn’t a goalie in the league that they see less net behind than Hank. He uses every bit of his 6’ 1” frame to make himself as big as possible, which is essential given how deep in the net he plays.
Speaking of net depth, Hank practically invented the modern itineration of “goal-line goaltending”. Generally, on defensive zone face-offs, a goalie will stand just on the top of the crease, angled at the dot. Hank, however, stands with his foot planted on the near post. This creates a whole new angular paradigm for him to follow and we have seen the maturation of this style as his success has increased over the past few years. Because he plays so deep in the net, the majority of his lateral movement comes from small shuffle steps and butterfly slides. His execution is a model of consistency. A proper butterfly slide is executed by shifting your weight to the push foot, planting that foot, lifting your other knee slightly off the ice and using the push foot to propel you in the desired direction. It sounds complicated, but with enough reps, it becomes second nature. There are some goalies, especially in major junior, who use this technique for the sake of using it, but Hank is very utilitarian with the technique. It allows him to cover a huge amount of lateral distance, especially in conjunction with his depth.
There has been much digital ink spilled over whether the improvement in The King’s game is him legitimately taking it to another level, or whether he is due for a serious regression to the mean. From an evaluation standpoint, his success is absolutely for real. That is not to say external factors cannot account for a possible decrease in his statistical performance, but the underlying improvement in technique is very much here to stay. Hank has learned to maximize his “goal line” style and has made important adjustments. He has begun to recognize circumstances where it would benefit him to challenge the shooter (especially above the face-off dots and the high slot), which has mitigated some of goals that have found their way into the upper third of the net in the past couple years. Since about 70% of NHL goals enter the net via the bottom third of the goal, Hank has rightfully tailored his game to limit that type of exposure, and continues to be a wall in scrambles down low. The paddle-down save is something that goaltenders of all levels overuse, but Hank makes intelligent use of the technique which helps him build that wall along the ice. Nothing Hank does is particularly pretty, but it’s plenty effective.
Hank is quite eccentric when it comes to his equipment habits. Not withstanding his bedazzled mask, the white gloves or his hand wrappings, he still has plenty of odd habits. His current set-up is the new Bauer TotalOne goalie line. He debuted this set at the Winter Classic and has carried it over into the normal uniforms. There are very limited specs available on this gear as of now (it has not yet been released to the retail public), but it undoubtedly will vary greatly from the stock line. Hank seems to prefer a very stiff pad, with very few internal breaks. The internals (at least on his old One100 set, used earlier this year) are completely stripped down, with only a simple channel and knee cradle. His uses a large thigh rise (the portion of the pad that extends up beyond the knee, used to help close the butterfly), last time I checked it was +3 inches taller than stock. This is responsible for the overlap in the pads you see when Hank is in his stance. He also does not use a traditional “anchor” strap that most goalies will lace from the bottom of their pad through the bottom of the cowling of the skate. Hank instead puts that bottom strap through a loop on the back of the heel of his skate. This allows the pad to sit higher on his leg and accommodate his wider stance.
Puck Handling Ability
This is by far the weakest aspect of Lundqvist’s overall game. He does not handle the puck particularly well, but the good news is that he has a very utilitarian application. He seems to be aware of his short comings and attempts to minimize them by only handling the puck when necessary. It’s always nice to have a goalie who can really handle the puck back there, but it’s not a necessity.
Up until this season, the biggest exploitable weakness that Hank had was shots to the upper part of the net. As I explained earlier in the analysis, Hank is starting to hedge against that weakness with a more aggressive approach on shots from farther out. He is still victimized in close by shots to the upper corners, but those are shots that goalies have a very low probability of stopping anyway. Obviously, good shots will sometimes find their way into the net regardless of the technique employed to stop them. This is unfortunately (for the shooters) your best bet to beat Lundqvist at this point in his career.
All of this adds up to what I feel is the best goaltender in the NHL. He is the complete package that creates an elite goalie. To recap, he is exceptional at covering the most dangerous area of the net; the lower 1/3, he possesses explosive and balanced lateral movement, excellent positioning and a compete level that is through the roof. He maintains a level emotional plane through the ups and downs of the game, never panics, and seemingly never loses focus. He is also a fantastic shoot-out goaltender. Although the skills-competition doesn’t come into play come playoff time, his abilities in this area will allow the Rangers to steal extra points frequently throughout the season. While I would never recommend young goalies emulate The King, he is one of the most dynamic and entertaining goaltenders in the NHL today.