It’s time to get concerned about Henrik Lundqvist’s workload

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Last night, the Rangers fell in a shootout to the division rival NJ Devils, a game in which they were severely outplayed.  These things happen over the course of an 82-game season, chock it up to a bad performance and move on.  Unfortunately, this game was just another in a string of games that begins to show a developing pattern.  The macro is that the Rangers are surviving, if not thriving at the moment, in the face of all of current analytics than tend to predict success.

The micro is that Henrik Lundqvist is facing a massively heavy workload and is a huge reason why the Rangers are back in the playoff picture.

Returning to the macro for a moment, it might just be that the Rangers high-tempo offense and potent power play are a chemistry that can exist in the holes of the current statistical analysis.  More likely, regression is coming.  The counter-punching style that the Rangers play is a video game offense.  When you don’t have quite the grasp on the controls to sustain pressure and create offense in-zone, you look to turnovers to spring higher probability chances.  With the defense as bad as it has been, this won’t fly in the playoffs when teams are pumping every available resource they have into understanding how to stop, what can be at times, a one-note offense.

That, however, is a big picture problem that is deserving of its own analysis.  The existing statistics should be examined for holes that isn’t accounting for the results the Rangers are getting.  That is not why we are here, though.  We are going to look at the micro today.

So far in December, the Rangers have played ten games.  Lundqvist has started eight of them, which is actually an improvement on November, in which Hank started 11 out of 12, with 12 starts in a row at one point.  The schedule density was a little more forgiving at that point, with typically 2-3 days in between starts, and no back-to-backs.  December has had two sets of back-to-backs with Hank starting both games, both times.

Up to this point, Ondrej Pavelec has started six games.  He is on pace for 14 for the season, which would have Lundqvist playing 68 games.  Hank has not played 68 games in a season since 2010-2011, when he was 28 years old.  As you can imagine, this workload concerns me for the sake of having a high performing goaltender in the spring, which is what this team’s playing style demands.  Hank is going to be 36 in March, which logically lends itself to needing more rest as the season goes on.

The craziest thing is that the games played isn’t really what is that concerning to me.  It’s the in-game workload.  Martin Brodeur played his age 37 season in 2009-2010 and appeared in 77 games.  That is nuts.  However, he averaged 24.49 shots/60.  The in-game workload was manageable, even though the games played number was not.  Through the Rangers’ first 35 games, Lundqvist has averaged 30.35 shots/60 against, with the Rangers sporting the highest xGA in the league.  That is not manageable at the games played rate that Hank is currently sporting.

To illustrate this point with recent history, of the eight starts Hank has made so far in December, he faced at least 30 shots seven times.  He faced over 35 shots five times.  Hell, he faced over 40 three times.  The point that I am trying to make is that this is not a recipe for having a fresh goaltender in the spring.  Lundqvist has insisted that more playing time helps with the mental aspect of the game.  This is completely true.  However, there has to be a balance between the mental and physical if you are going to be relying on him heavily for success.

The way I look at it, the Rangers have one of three choices: 1) they can do a wholesale reassessment of their systems and deployment to try to stop the hemorrhaging of high quality shots against, 2) they can trust Pavelec to take on a heavier workload so they don’t burn Hank out, or 3) go get a backup goaltender they can trust to take on a heavier workload so they don’t burn Hank out.

Since I don’t think the organization is interested in option 1, they need to start to look for a way to get their franchise goaltender off his feet a bit more.  The season is almost half way completed.  The Rangers are back in the thick of the playoff race after their awful start, so if they are hell bent on making a run this year, it would be helpful to have your starting goaltender in one-piece when the playoffs start.

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20 thoughts on “It’s time to get concerned about Henrik Lundqvist’s workload

  • Dec 22, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    Gonna have to get Pavs some games.. although with Toronto in town tomorrow, I’d rest Hank and let him come back fresh after the break.. maybe it’ll force the D to actually show up. In other news… Jesper is out 2-3 weeks with a quad strain

  • Dec 22, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    Both timely and by turns thought provoking, Justin. Thank you.

    Though I haven’t seen Pavelec more than three times, he seems to exhibit progressively more poise, confidence. By all means, give him more of the workload. At least 20-22 starts.

    Inasmuch, should Pavelec falter, or regress, why not call up Halverson before resorting to someone from without?

    You and I witnessed what Mackenzie Skapski brought to the club a couple years back. Give Halverson the same trial stint: two or three starts.

    • Dec 22, 2017 at 3:33 pm

      World-renowned Buffalo-Killer Mack! Sad to see injuries derail him. Was a feel-good story in the making, otherwise.

  • Dec 22, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    Two points. I do not see the Rangers as hell bent on making a run. The offseason moves were geared toward the future. If the Rangers can make a run, management will take it, but the organization isn’t about this year, at least IMO.

    Second, I see the problems as mental and not physical – and I do not see them as mental exhaustion (although they could be). And this is a problem for both goalie and skaters. I hate the Ranger storyline. They lose because the skaters stink and they win because Hank is great. Yes, Lundqvist is a good goaltender, but the team has some good players. I’d wager they would be much better than Arizona with Marek Mazanec in net – maybe having a minor league tender keeps them out of the postseason, but they would be respectable. But nobody talks that way. This has to be horrible for team morale AND it puts too much of a burden on Hank mentally.

    I watched the playoffs last year and I was not trying to make what I saw fit my preconceived notions. What I saw was a shot from the corner that bounced off Stepan, Hank’s back, and into the net. I’ll call that moment the cataclysm. Before the cataclysm, Hank was a goaltender who had his eye on the Conn Smythe trophy. Beating the Penguins would have been tough, but Hank believed in himself and was at the top of his game. After the cataclysm, Hank wasn’t good enough to win the Calder Cup. He was playing perhaps the best game of his life and HE LOST. Life is hopeless.

    Winning the Cup seems to require a mental intensity for two months that Hank has never been able to achieve. Maybe the best thing for him now is to prove to himself that he can really navigate a two month tear. Maybe he should be playing almost every game until mid-January just to prove he can — then come Feb and March, he should relax and let the Ranger skaters show what they can do without him.

    • Dec 22, 2017 at 2:07 pm

      Hank has a higher playoff save percentage as a pro (SHL and NHL combined) than he does in the regular season for those leagues. Two golds and three silvers in major international play with Sweden, and some players probably get the butterflies even more representing their country than they do playing for a paycheck. Also has a solid reputation for stealing wins in elimination games throughout his NHL career. I don’t think there’s much cause to say that Hank lacks the mental intensity required to win a Cup.

      • Dec 22, 2017 at 2:25 pm

        Hank has both won more and lost more playoff games than any Ranger goalie in history. with a large number of games, he has a long history of success and failure. A few years back, he won an unwinnable series against the Pens. He has a great record in Game 7s. He has also quit the last two years in a row.

        Yes, he has mental intensity, but he has never put it together for a two month run. He does not play well if he does not believe. I remember one year playing for Sweden against Canada, he was incredible, stopping everything in a hopeless cause as his skaters were badly beaten. But then came the moment when Sweden was behind a goal or two and he knew they couldn’t come back – and suddenly Canada’s goals came fast and furious. He had some physical issue against the Pens in 2016 and just didn’t show up. And I’ve alluded to his collapse against Ottawa above when he felt the gods were against him. [JFTR, I believed that if the Rangers could have prevailed in Game 6, Lundqvist would have been back for Game 7 AND Round 3.]

        • Dec 22, 2017 at 3:25 pm

          I’m not sure why you insist he “quit”. I don’t see it that way.

          What I will say is, I actually applaud him for his composure in general terms (not any one game scenario). This defense has done him virtually no favors in the past three seasons and counting. Consistently, high-danger shot after high-danger shot. Hank gets peppered on a nightly basis for weeks at a time. Embarrassing breakdown after embarrassing breakdown. And, while the cast changes, the plot remains the same – Man/Overload has some significant benefits when it comes to springing the offense…but it is an abhorrently terrible system for actually defending the net. Pros and cons, I suppose…but if you put an average or mediocre netminder in this system, fronting like they do when Hank plays (which I assume is his preference, and if so, I don’t understand because net-side clearly works better in this system)…yikes. I cringe at the thought.

          The Stepan “Relax Moment” is infamous, of course…but could you imagine how a true hot-head like Patrick Roy would react if his defense shit on his doorstep as often and with such gusto as Hank has had to endure in recent seasons? Whoo-boy.

          And, besides…Hank shouldn’t have to be perfect for us to win. Staal, Holden, and Kampfer can get torched-n-scorched with impunity as far as AV is concerned…never hear him calling out those guys by name in his presser. He has called out Hank, though. Multiple times. Probably will again. I guess that’s what happens when a former defenseman who was mediocre at best and who runs a terrible defensive scheme gets handed a generational goalie; blame the goalie.

          Hank’s fine. We have bigger fish to fry. That’s all I’m getting at.

    • Dec 22, 2017 at 4:14 pm

      I disagree with the idea that Hank hasn’t achieved the requisite mental toughness in the playoffs. It is that mental toughness which has made him so incredible in elimination games. In the SCF in the 4 games he finished, he faced 41, 43, 44, and 51 shots. Quick in those same games faced 19, 27, 30, and 38. Hank is as mentally, and physically, tough as they come and he has never, ever quit on anything. Not in his DNA.

    • Dec 23, 2017 at 2:00 pm


      Your points are often as well thought out as any out here, and I usually enjoy them. But your characterizations of Hank in many cases have ZERO basis in fact. You state that Hank “quits”, as if its a fact. Seriously? And you know this how exactly? How much would you be willing to bet that if you and I could sit down and actually talk to players past and present who have played with the guy, that they would agree with your statement that Hank “quits” when the going gets tough and/or that his teammates resent the narrative that he has been their most important player over the years and that somehow “demoralizes” the room?

      Sorry my friend, normally I respect your opinion. In this case, it’s so beyond absurd that it barely deserves acknowledgement. You can do better.

  • Dec 22, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    Let Hank play until he faulters.

    • Dec 22, 2017 at 3:44 pm

      While I want to agree with this because it’s Hank we are talking about, his age and mileage does concern me with this much work. That said, he came into the season lighter than he has weighed in a while, and he spoke to how that was one of his main offseason goals. I’d be curious to know how he actually physically feels, right now. I’m guessing pretty good, because (if he was honest, anyway) I would expect Pav to have gotten more starts thus far if Hank was expressing any physical concerns to the training/coaching staff.

  • Dec 22, 2017 at 3:52 pm

    Nice article, Justin, thank you. I’d like to give you kudos for being one of the more open minded and searching analysts on social media. I believe there *is* a “secret sauce” that hasn’t yet been identified by analytics, that accounts for the Rangers’ success under AV. It was most noticeable in year one when the team, largely the same as Torts’ team, made a jump forward. Since it is now the “norm,” folks are less conscious of the AV effect. I believe his methods mask the fact that the team is second tier in talent (9-16 not 1-8 best in league), though they were top eight in the first year when Stralman, MSL, Boyle, and Dorsett were in the lineup.

    When a team is not top tier, it puts tremendous pressure on the keeper. It also tends to result in regular seasons that don’t carry over to the playoffs. The playoffs are when you no longer have the transitory effects of back-to-backs and mismatched motivation. Here is where you are going to see where the talent lies.

    I believe that the only playoff series the Rangers lost in AV’s tenure, in spite of having the balance of talent on their side, was the series against Ottawa last year. (And it wasn’t a monumental upset, but a stinging defeat, no doubt.) AV admitted it, we all saw it, and some of the changes that took place were a result of it. It’s a shame, but upsets happen in sports, even sometimes in a seven game series.

    At a certain point, one has to stop swinging with each game and look at results over the long term. If the Rangers’ brass had listened to the blogosphere, and had *not* done that, we’d be on an interim coach right now. When Brooks claimed AV was on a “win or be fired” basis, before the Vegas game, and they won, Joe Fortunato had the chutzpah to write that “in fairness to AV, since the team had already decided to move on from him, they should fire him anyway and move on.” Here’s a guy who hadn’t written anything in fairness to AV for over two years, who was now using the phrase “in fairness to AV” as a mere rhetorical device to beg for the firing, even though they beat Vegas, lol. You just had to laugh at the balls of the guy! Well, it’s been like that all over social media, before and since.

    Anyway, thanks again, Justin, and keep up the good work.

    On a personal note, guys and gals, my vacation is wrapping up. I’ll be on the road for Christmas. I won’t be posting for a while again, tho I’ll try to pop my head in. Greetings to all, whether you agree or disagree with my view, lol.


    • Dec 23, 2017 at 7:04 am

      Happy Holidays and safe travels my friend.

    • Dec 23, 2017 at 1:54 pm

      Well said Myth….don’t be a stranger, and have a great holiday!

  • Dec 23, 2017 at 3:42 am

    I am not actually all that worried about his workload. If he says he is fine then he is fine. This team isn’t going anywhere in the playoffs this year. Just don’t have the talent level to compete. Or the will to win. Look things might change but highly unlikely.

    When you trade away your number 1C and get a pick and a defender from the AHL farm system for him …as a GM you are not planning on winning the cup with that move. Simply not a win now move. If Gorton replaced him with a later trade or pick up then maybe. But DD is not Stephan in any means.

    If I am the GM i try to trade Hank now …i am showing the league he still has it. He can still compete on a weaker team and we are presently playoff bound with much less then what we have had in the past as far team skill and defense. Hence the workload hank is getting.
    Now I am not sure of the specifics but…maybe he has a list of teams he would go to? Maybe he asked for a trade? Who really knows? Doubt anyone in here reading this has true inside knowledge.
    But honestly doesn’t The King deserve a Cup? He has won everything else in his career. For whatever the reason the Rangers are not there this season and as far as I can see for the forseeable future.
    We have no true 3C …no true 1C …We have 2 quality 4Cs’ and 2 quality 2Cs’ all of our wingers for the exception of Zuc and maybe Nash are 2nd and 3rd liners at best. Buch has a long way to prove himself in the eyes of AV and the league. Miller is amazing raw talent but totally a jack of all trades but awesome at nothing. If the guy could just get some consistency in his career I think he would be a 1st line player on any team. Kreider is strong, fast, but has stones for hands and has no consistent output level. Some games he is all over the place and others he just sits on the bench and watches the game. Vesey is having a sophomore slump. Wont know about him til next season and how he comes to camp. Fast is a career 4th liner that again that does everything.

    As Gorton said after the draft we have had no 1st round picks so our talent pool is limited. We have alot average players that we have tried to be competitive with for almost 10 years now. No Crosby, Malkin, Matthews, McDavid, Eichel, and so on. The only guy to start the season on a roster and stay on it from last years draft to my knowledge is Hischer on the devils and he was the 1st pick overall. Everyone else is in their teams farm system.

    So it is time ladies and gentlemen…blow the team up. Stick with the trend and say goodbye to the oldies. You can’t half ass your self destruct button. Trading your 1C was the start. Just finish the PROCESS. If you didn’t do that trade to get better for the future. Then simply you should be fired. If the higher ups are not allowing you to do it then guess what ….you are going to get fired anyway. The team is going to fail and you are going to take the blame Gorton.

    As a overall the guys in place really seem to be able to draft well. And raise up prospects well. I mean we have some guys on this team that just shouldn’t be in the NHL. But because of the system they made it. I mean stop and think about all the players in the nhl that at some point were rangers. but not only rangers but also draft picks.
    Off the top of my head you have Dubinsky, Cally, John Moore, Anisimov, Dale Weise on the canadiens giardi, I know he wasnt drafted, del zotto, dom moore, al montoya, korpikoski, tom pyatt, hagelin, stepan, duclair. That honestly stopped being off the top of my head Weise. but in honesty that is a pretty good selection of players. you had a lot no shows but certainly had you fair share of surprises. Biggest being Hank as a 7th round pick.
    If you can get something for Hank or Mac that is worth it as a fan I can understand. If you trade them for nothing but Emerson etem I can’t say i will but I will try my best to never watch a game again til you are fired.
    sorry went on a tirade there. Bit of a bender.

    • Dec 23, 2017 at 1:52 pm

      You are on a roll. Another completely absurd post. Hank has an NMC. He is a NY celeb. He loves the Big Apple. He’s making $8.5 mil for four more years. He is 35. The cap is real. Add it all up, and Hank will NEVER agree to waive his NMC, not until perhaps the final year when perhaps Shesterkin takes over and maybe then, he does it for a year. Even if he did agree to be traded, what team contending team has the cap space and the need to take on that cap hit? What would the return be? Based on recent deals involving goalies, nowhere near acceptable. So if you dont get a strong return, how do you benefit the franchise by dealing its most popular player without any way to replace him in the short term? The answer—you dont.

      You are dealing with nonsense. Hank is not going anywhere for at least the next three seasons, if at all.

  • Dec 23, 2017 at 7:03 am

    Meh, Henrik makes $8.5M per year so he should start every game and not give up any goals. That’s what he gets paid a lot of money for.

    How he didn’t shut out the Devs after facing a ton of high quality scoring shots, I’ll never know.

    • Dec 23, 2017 at 9:28 am

      psst, (said in a whisper), I was kidding…

  • Dec 23, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    Some quick thoughts on this old thread.

    1) Yes, obviously at age 35, you always have to be worried about overworking your franchise goalie. Every time he sticks out a pad to make a contortionist-like save I cringe thinking he might have ripped his hamstring (that’s the old goalie in me remembering what that felt like!). But the schedule has been mostly favorable in that regard and in truth, I dont think it’s been that big of a deal—so far. If the Rangers were playing the truncated schedule they played last year, then it would be a much bigger concern.

    2) The bad start to the season, combined with the Metro turning into the arguably the best top to bottom division anyone has ever seen in modern sports, is forcing the Rangers to make decisions with Hank that in a different scenario, perhaps they don’t make. Every game is huge right now. It’s more than reasonable to play him the way they are at the moment.

    3) Justin, you make valid points here, but what’s the point of having Hank sharp for the playoffs if the Rangers don’t make the playoffs? The way the Metro is shaping up, several good teams, and maybe even one great team (the Pens?) will miss the playoffs altogether. It’s so tight that it is like musical chairs, and the Rangers are doing what they have to do to make sure they are not one of the teams not sitting in a playoff chair once the regular season music stops.

    So to me, the smart strategy is to go for it now, with few back to back games to worry about, the holiday break coming, the bye week soon approaching and then the all-star break. If the Rangers can stay hot, maybe they can get enough separation and then start giving Hank more time to rest. If you worry about resting him now, and then are forced to play him in every game down the stretch in March and early April, how rested will he be for the playoffs in that scenario? I’m all on board with AV and Benny’s approach at the moment.

    4) Before the season, I said that a point regression this year was likely and that one of the reasons would be a downgrade in the back-up goalie position. I don’t think it’s a lack of confidence in Pavelec. I think it’s pretty clear that in Talbot and Raanta, they had back-ups that could be, in a small sample, Hank’s equal on most nights. Most teams don’t have back-ups that good. So Pav is more of a “normal” back-up. I don’t think the Rangers need an upgrade here, because landing one is highly unlikely anyway. But the Rangers probably do not believe he can be relied upon to play as many games as his predecessors.

    • Dec 23, 2017 at 2:07 pm

      Unless there’s an injury, I would say that Henrik is playing 90% of the games going forward.

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