The. Best. Goalie. In. The. World. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
The Rangers are riding a strong run of form, have a goalie close to his peak and beat the Flyers with relative ease Wednesday night. With so many positives let’s muse.
They wouldn’t be the Philadelphia Flyers if they wouldn’t look to start something at the end of a game in which they’re losing, would they? Completely classless franchise.
I had a discussion with some friends today; are the Flyers the least classy organisation in sport?
McDonagh I: I’ve been banging the Ryan McDonagh drum for weeks now. He’s a bonafide elite, Norris worthy defenseman. He’s taken the next step that Marc Staal has always been close to taking but for various reasons (usually injury) hasn’t quite made. This year McDonagh went from being a quality two way defenseman to being a dominant linchpin of a quality defensive unit.
McDonagh II: Jaromir Jagr is perhaps the single greatest trade/acquisition in the Glen Sather era. Or is he? Has the McDonagh trade taken over Jagr as being the best move of the Sather reign? The trade with Montreal allowed so many dominoes to fall in place and that’s without factoring in the top 10 NHL defenseman he has become.
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With his win over Ottawa on Tuesday night, Henrik Lundqvist passed Mike Richter for the Rangers’ all-time wins record. His 302nd career victory came on the heels of back-to-back disappointing losses, so this achievement was somewhat marginalized. It’s very difficult to take stock of history while you are in the middle of a somewhat frustrating playoff race.
Aside from the Rangers’ franchise record, Henrik moved into a tie with Turk Broda for 26th on the NHL all-time wins list. Just for some context, he is only one win behind Olaf Kolzig, and two behind Billy Smith before some separation sets in. In only eight-plus seasons, Hank has put himself in the discussion with current or projected hall of famers. This got me thinking about his overall career trajectory.
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This year’s Olympic competition sports a pool of goaltenders amongst the strongest we have seen since the NHL began participating in the games. The United States and Finland are especially deep, each with three goaltenders that could easily start for most nations. Although the tournament has already gotten underway, and we have seen some solid (Lundqvist, Hiller) performances and some sketchy (Rask, Halak) ones, let’s take a look at what each county’s best stopper has to offer. I realize there are going to be some changes made between the pipes as the tournament goes along and most teams have several starting caliber tendys, but I’m going to break down the ones who should be starting based on ability level and previous performance.
United States- Jonathan Quick
Why not start with the Red, White and Blue? Despite this being a Rangers’ blog, I have committed a significant amount of digital ink to the King’s world class netminder. Ryan Miller was dynamite in 2010 and deserves some ice in Sochi, but this is Quick’s team. The Americans will only go as far as he can carry them, and judging from some of his playoff performances, that could include the podium to accept the gold medal. His athleticism in this tournament is rivaled only by (ironically enough) the two Russian netminders. However, his technical skills, vision and positioning are lightyears ahead of the hosts. Read more »
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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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 »
The Rangers have been waiting for Rick Nash’s offensive explosion
If you’re still ignoring the #fancystats movement, you’re missing out on some awesome information that provides a lot of further insight to the game. But one thing we don’t need advanced stats to tell us is that to succeed in the NHL you A) need good players, and B) need your good players to play well.
That was missing early in the season when the Rangers’ best players, Rick Nash and Henrik Lundqvist, were non-factors (Nash was hurt, Lundqvist was playing some of the worst hockey of his career). However, over the past month both men have returned to their old superstar forms, and not coincidentally, New York has played its best hockey of the season. The Rangers are 11-4-1 in their last 16 games dating back to December 22nd, and in that stretch, Nash has recorded 12 points (10 goals, two assists) while Lundqvist has a 1.97 GAA and a .933 SV%.
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Cam Talbot will want a starting opportunity if he keeps up his form. (Scott Levy, Getty Images)
The dilemma is always there: A franchise always wants to have strong goaltending and a strong, reliable back-up, but the threat of losing such a commodity to a club dangling a starting gig is constant. Cam Talbot may be approaching this kind of situation in his near future and the Rangers need to be ready to deal with it.
The Rangers have been lucky in recent times with backup goaltending thanks to Marty Biron and now – in spectacular style – Cam Talbot. With Talbot’s play – leading the league in save percentage and goals against average – Talbot will surely be an enticing prospect for several clubs this summer (the likes of Washington, Islanders, Calgary and perhaps even teams such as Winnipeg). Henrik Lundqvist’s backup still has a year left on his modest contract and with his performances, appealing size and (likely) desire not to remain a back-up long term, he’ll surely be open to offers.
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The Rangers are thankful for Lundqvist’s improved form (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Perhaps the most encouraging part of watching the Rangers during their recent upturn in form is seeing several core players begin to find some much needed form. Any club will only go as far as their best players take them and it’s no coincidence that now that the spine of the Rangers are collectively finding their games, the team has found some level of consistency and are beginning to show evidence of creating an identity.
Rick Nash has started to find his offensive game and it’s no coincidence that he has started to score a few goals and be harder to deal with as he has (finally) started to go the dangerous parts of the ice. Nash’s game winner against the Stars came as he was falling, looking to crash the night. With his size and ability Nash has to be around the puck more, not stay on the perimeter and he simply has to go to the net. It’s not easy to move a man of his size. Simple hockey theory.
As Dave discussed this week, Dan Girardi’s improved form has given the Rangers more consistency on the back end, helped reduce the errors in front of Lundqvist and generally made the Rangers harder to play against. Girardi is not one of the Rangers more talented players but whsomeone plays as many minutes as Girardi does and matches up against the opponent’s best forwards, if he’s on his game it will usually bode well.
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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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Rarity: Chris Kreider is one of few that represent value this year. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Who gets the blame; the General Manager? The coaching staff? Or perhaps the players themselves? When you look at the Rangers’ disappointing position in the standings and general up and down performances from a game to game basis, one thing that may go unnoticed is how the Rangers are not getting value for money from their roster. In the cap era, getting good return from your investments is critical and is something found on almost every successful roster.
With New York it obviously begins with Rick Nash ($7.8 million) , Brad Richards ($6.667 million) and yes, Henrik Lundqvist (at present, $6.875 million). When judging the financial returns solely on this season, none of the critical trio named are giving the Rangers acceptable production. Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and in fact almost every Ranger player on a sizeable cap hit hasn’t produced.
Whatever the mitigating circumstances, the underwhelming returns continue with Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, Michael Del Zotto and, until recently, Derick Brassard. No ‘core player’ has produced as anticipated. Considering cap hits of $2 million dollars and above, it can be argued only Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello have produced above expectations. When you consider, from a financial perspective, almost an entire roster hasn’t lived up to its billing it’s a huge area for concern.
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