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Balance the key to Lundqvist’s resurgence

Any excuse to show the Pinstripe pads.

Any excuse to show the Pinstripe pads.

Despite being Ben Scrivens’d (again) last night, the Rangers have been on quite a roll for past six weeks or so.  Most will point to the terrible 5-3 loss to the Islanders on December 20th as the game that proved to be a turning point for the season.  At that time, the Rangers were struggling to break .500, playing downright terrible defense, and saw fans calling for AV’s head.  But most vexing was the play of Henrik Lundqvist.

Since that dark time, the Rangers have played much better hockey.  The team went on 15-6-1 stretch of dominance, the system seems to have sunk in for the players in a meaningful way and the play of their King greatly improved.  During the beginning of the season, we were all left scratching our heads at how the Henrik could look so mortal after another Vezina nominated (half) season.  Some pointed to the new equipment restrictions, I was curious about his new super-lightweight Bauer pads, but he seems to have put it all to rest.

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Taking stock a month before the trade deadline

Newsday.com

Newsday.com

To say this has been a roller coaster season so far for the Rangers would be an understatement.  After starting the year 3-7 and getting embarrassed by some of the mighty Western Conference’s best squads, it looked like the team was starting to figure it out.  They went 11-6 over their next seventeen, and genuinely looked like the team we all expected them to be this summer.  Unfortunately, they decided to go 1-6 over their next seven, culminating in brutal 5-3 defeat to the Islanders.  Following that terrible stretch of lost hockey, and presumably to drive Ranger fans to drink more, the team has since rattled off a 13-5-1 stretch to climb all the way to second place behind Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division.

In most years, you can glean a front office’s assessment of their team by how they conduct themselves at the trade deadline.  While my little season recap above could seem like fun with arbitrary end points, it has made the overall assessment of this team exceedingly difficult.  Sure, there have been specific instances one can point to that explain peaks and valleys (Nash’s injury/return, Talbot’s call up, Cally injury/return, Carcillo, etc.) but now that everyone is healthy and playing well, is this the team we thought were getting in August, or are they just on another streak?

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Next stop: Yankee Stadium

2014-NHL-Stadium-Series

sportslogos.net

With last night’s tough loss to St. Louis out of the way, the hockey world’s attention now turns to the much publicized “Stadium Series” games, starting this Saturday.  This weekend’s festivities will see the Ducks and Kings face-off on Saturday at Dodger Stadium (with some of the ugliest unis going, by the way) while the Rangers will battle the Devils on Sunday at Yankee Stadium.

When the NHL announced that there would be five outdoor games in addition to the Winter Classic played this year, much of the reaction centered around some variation of “overkill”.  This is a novelty concept that was charming with one game on New Year’s day, but would the concept be turned into a gimmick by playing this many games outside?  I have to admit,  I was skeptical.

The Rangers were the beneficiaries of two of the five Stadium Series games, against the Devils and Islanders, respectively.  Personally, I was hoping Yankee Stadium’s big hockey reveal would come during a Winter Classic, but alas, it was not meant to be.  The weirder part was that both of these games would feature the Rangers in road white.  Read more »

Attempting to quantify goalie puck handling

This was literally the only picture I could find of Henrik handling a puck. I think this was ’06.

The request for this post came from reader Max Steuer.  Keep those suggestions coming! If you have a post idea you’d like one of us to run with, make sure to reach out to your desired author via email or twitter.

Throughout Henrik Lundqvist’s stellar career to date, one of the common detractions from his game has always been his inability to play the puck effectively.  The past couple years have highlighted this weakness in his game, as Marty Biron, and now, Cam Talbot have been effective and capable puck handlers. This skill has been somewhat anecdotal (though, I have always included it in my style analyses) throughout the evolution of goalie development.

It’s nearly impossible to quantify in any meaningful way, and was always viewed as a bonus when a goaltender was blessed with strong stick skills.  After a quick Google search for the purposes of researching this post, this was all but confirmed.  Many instructors and YouTube aficionados have drills and technique suggestions and the like, but no one out there seems to have a handle on how to quantify it.

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Rangers mid-season grades: the goaltenders

United in brutal paint jobs.

United in brutal paint jobs.

So far, the crew here at BSB has covered the GM, Coach, defense and bottom six forwards in our mid-season grades series.  Today, we touch on something of a sore subject: the goaltending.  Even though Marty Biron played in several regular season games, he immediately retired and gave way to Cam Talbot.  For this reason, I’m not going to grade Marty.  However, he would get a solid A- for his broadcasting prowess.

Henrik Lundqvist

Much digital ink has been spilled in this space concerning the play of our now $59.5 million goaltender.  In contrast to the rest of his career, this season has been marred by inconsistency and erratic play.  All the speculation about his contract situation/future only compounded the problem, and was worsened by the eventual windfall he did receive.

From a statistical standpoint, the first half of the season hasn’t been a complete disaster.  Hank is currently sporting a 2.70 GAA and a .908 Save %.  As most of our loyal readers can attest, I am not a big fan of either of these statistical measures as accurate indicators of goaltending ability, but until a truly reliable advanced metric is developed, it’s all we got.  Read more »

Henrik Lundqvist, balance and the Bauer OD1N line

Weight too far forward.

Weight too far forward.

On December 19th, Bauer Hockey held a media event to unveil a new line of both player and goalie equipment that they claimed was going to be a “game changer”.  Their basic approach was to charge their research and product design engineers in St-Jérôme, Québec to change the way hockey players could perform on the ice.  The concept was made analogous to the automotive industry: remove cost considerations, aesthetic inconsistencies from the status quo, all preconceived notions about what was possible within the industry, and show us the future.  A concept car.  The pressure of the normal product to market cycle was taken out of the picture and the goal was pure innovation.  The OD1N line was born.

Three core products came out of this endeavor: a body suit, a player skate and goalie pads.  Bauer’s website has the keynote from the event if you are interested in checking out the specs on the skate and the body suit, but for the purposes of this post, we are going to focus on the goalie pad, and its primary endorser, Henrik Lundqvist.

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Gotham City problems

Warner Brothers

Warner Brothers

If Heath Ledger’s iconic turn as The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s epic 2008 crime drama “The Dark Knight” has taught us anything, its that as long as everything goes according to plan, everything is fine.  Even if the plan is horrifying.  When the Flames lose 50+ games this season, nobody panics.  When franchise players are flipped for unknown prospects and picks, everything is fine.  But when one little ol’ contender struggles, especially in New York, well, then everyone loses their minds.

This year’s New York Rangers club has fallen well short of expectations thus far.  This team was supposed to be the cream that rose to the top of the less-than-stellar Metropolitan Division and carry Stanley Cup aspirations into the late spring months.  Alain Vigneault was supposed to be the final piece of this puzzle, taking a team more offensive talented than the 2012 team that grinded their way to the Eastern Conference finals to the next level.

Clearly, the transition has been sandpaper smooth to this point.  The team in general (but, especially the defense) have had a difficult time going from John Tortorella’s straight forward 2-1-2/low zone collapse to AV’s more complex, matchup oriented overload system.  Henrik Lundqvist has been mortal to this point, and our beloved Blueshirts are clinging to playoff contention more as a result of the weak Eastern Conference and weaker Metropolitan Division than of the quality of their play. Read more »

So, what about Cam Talbot?

Scott Levy/Getty Images

Scott Levy/Getty Images

Now that all the hemming and hawing over Henrik Lundqvist’s contract situation has been completed, Cam Talbot’s future has been an oft-discussed topic.  Whatever you may think about the specific details of the contract, Hank is going to be manning the pipes at the Garden until 2020-2021.

This brings us back to Talbot.  His emergence this season as a viable NHL goaltender have prompted quite a few fans to jump to conclusions about his long-term future in the Rangers organization and his potential trade value and contract status.  Just to get the facts out of the way, Talbot is under contract for this season and next at a very reasonable $562,000 cap hit.  As Dave pointed out in his fantastic analysis of Hank’s contract, the discount between Marty Biron’s salary and Talbot’s hedge quite a bit of the raise that Hank received in the context of overall goaltending cost.

After next season, because of his age, Talbot will be eligible for Unrestricted Free Agency.  Generally speaking, when a player makes his NHL debut, there are usually several cost controlled years at the team’s disposal, either through the ELC or RFA status.  Because goalies are more often than not, late bloomers, the Rangers don’t have this luxury with Talbot. Read more »

Playing devil’s advocate: Henrik Lundqvist

Scott Levy/Getty Images

Scott Levy/Getty Images

We’ve received some feedback over the past few weeks that readers are looking for a more objective viewpoint on hot-button Rangers issues.  In our insatiable desire to please our readership, I’ve decided to start the Playing devil’s advocate series, looking at both sides of major debates and lending our own conclusion.

For the inaugural edition of Playing devil’s advocate, I’ve decided to tackle the great Henrik Lundqvist debate (did you really think I would start with anything else?).  I’m going to break down both sides of the argument as to whether he is still elite, and whether trading the King makes any sense.

Considering The King’s looming free agency and slow start to the season, the debate about whether he is worth investing heavily in after the season was kind of inevitable.  He’s clearly looking to max out the term (a risky proposition with a 31-year old) and increase his current $6.8 million salary by a significant margin.  This has (understandably) made more than a few Rangers fans uncomfortable.  The question that is ultimately begged by this situation is: while Hank has been elite for the past nine seasons, will he continue to be elite for the next eight?  Additionally, is his pedestrian start to the season indicative of an already-in-progress decline?

The case for still elite:

Any case for Hank continuing his status as an elite NHL goaltender starts with his track record.  He has been the most consistently excellent goaltender in the NHL since Lockout II.  This means little for trying to predict the future, but thus far, Hank has yet to disappoint.  Read more »

Thoughts following last night’s win in Dallas

Photo: AP

Photo: AP

I know you just had the musings yesterday, but I have a bunch of thoughts I want to share that aren’t worth a full post.  Deal with it.  Here’s some thoughts following the Rangers 3-2 win in Dallas last night…

  • Is there really anywhere to start but with Hank?  The King was absolutely out of his mind last night.  Watching the game, there were several times I found myself gasping at his awesomeness.  Dare I say he out Tuukka’d Tuukka’s performance from the other night.  Hank’s positioning was spot on, he tracked the puck exceedingly well, and he hung with very tough second and third chances.  He was an absolute wall.
  • Man, it’s nice to have Rick Nash back.  I absolutely love watching the guy play.  His size, speed, and fluidity are all sorely missed when he’s out of the lineup.  He has this way of just mesmerizing opposing D-men as he nonchalantly glides into the zone.  I can totally understand why sometimes his teammates just stand around and watch him. Read more »