The New York Rangers are lucky to have three capable goaltenders, but Henrik Lundqvist should get the nod in the qualifying round.
The New York Rangers’ goaltending situation is both a blessing and a curse. Teams hope to have one solid goaltender; the Rangers have three. Unfortunately, however, that makes assigning the starting role difficult for the coaching staff.
Head coach David Quinn has yet to decide who will be in net once the Rangers take on the Carolina Hurricanes on Aug. 1 to kick off the qualifying round.
He noted that several factors will play a part in the decision-making process, one of which is how the three goaltenders perform during training camp, which commenced last week.
While all three goaltenders are capable, I’m going to make a case for Henrik Lundqvist getting the nod in Game 1.
Coming into the season, it was business as usual for the Rangers’ goalies: Lundqvist was the starter and Alexandar Georgiev was his backup.
Igor Shesterkin, who has been viewed as the likely heir to Lundqvist’s throne for some time now, signed a two-year deal with the Rangers last May. He began the season with New York’s AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, where he was outstanding.
Shesterkin was recalled by the Rangers on Jan. 6, and that changed everything. Shesterkin only played 12 NHL games but won an impressive 10 games while boasting a 0.931 SV%, 2.44 GAA, 4.19 GSAA, 0.857 HDSV%, 1.38 HDGAA, and 3.05 HDGSAA.
It’s unlikely that his numbers would’ve been this great had he played in as many games as Georgiev or Lundqvist, but these stats are, nonetheless, outstanding.
Georgiev played in 34 games, more than either of his goalie counterparts, recording a 0.915 SV%, 2.64 GAA, -0.80 GSAA, 0.828 HDSV%, 1.42 HDGAA, and 0.80 HDGSAA.
Lastly is Lundqvist, who played 30 games and recorded a 0.918 SV%, 2.62 GAA, -1.19 GSAA, 0.850 HDSV%, 1.43 HDGAA, and 5.27 HDGSAA.
Rangers president John Davidson told the media that the decision of who will start in net will be made solely by the coaching staff. Quinn and company will have some serious thinking and analyzing to do before coming to a verdict.
Alexandar Georgiev Is The Odd Man Out
The easy part in all this is that it’s all but certain that Georgiev will be the odd man out. He’s, by far, the worst goalie of the three and really has no business participating in the playoffs, barring an emergency.
Georgiev has been overrated by many — he isn’t a starting goalie right now. He’s very inconsistent and is shaky in high-danger situations. That leaves Lundqvist and Shesterkin.
Is It Igor Shesterkin’s Time?
Shesterkin, who like Georgiev is 24 years old, is young, has already shown so much talent and promise, and is the team’s likely franchise goalie of the future.
He played fewer games than Georgiev and Lundqvist but put up much better numbers than the two. Performance-wise, he was the team’s best goalie this season. The case for him to start is strong, but I believe the case to start Lundqvist is stronger.
This season has been a strange one for Lundqvist, and wasn’t pretty, either. When speaking to the media recently, he even referred to his year as a tale of two seasons. In the first part, he was the Rangers’ clear No. 1 goalie. By the end of December, he had played in 23 games.
However, things changed for him once the calendar turned and once Shesterkin was called up. Lundqvist played in just two games in January, three in February, and two in March. To add to that, more than one of these appearances came in relief and not as starts.
Lundqvist has looked fantastic in some games this season, but dreadful in others. This can be attributed to several factors. For one, Lundqvist made most of his starts between October and the end of December.
During that period, the Rangers’ defense was playing poorly. In fact, as a collective unit, the defense performed much worse in front of Lundqvist than either Georgiev or Shesterkin.
Additionally, when Lundqvist was given starts later on in the season, he didn’t look great because of rust. It’s irrational to expect a goalie, no matter how great he is, to go out there and stop every puck if he’s making one to two starts a month.
Why Henrik Lundqvist Deserves To Start
Enough about the negative. Let’s talk about what makes Lundqvist the best option for the Rangers in net. First is something that even Quinn said is a major factor when considering Lundqvist: “King Henrik’s” outstanding numbers against the Hurricanes.
Lundqvist is obviously on the downswing of his career overall but still managed to be phenomenal against Carolina this season. He posted a perfect 3-0 record with a .947 SV% (125 saves on 132 shots) against the Hurricanes.
In fact, one of his best performances of the season was in Raleigh on Nov. 7 where he made a whopping 45 saves and led the Rangers to a 4-2 win. Lundqvist was exceptional against the Hurricanes this year, but that’s nothing new for him.
In his career, he’s 33-12-1 against the Hurricanes with a 2.00 GAA and .934 SV%. He only has better career numbers against the Detroit Red Wings.
These numbers are jaw-dropping and very few goalies in NHL history have ever done so well in their career against one team.
If his numbers against Carolina aren’t enough, let’s consider an even more important factor: playoff experience.
The Rangers have a rich history when it comes to goalies, and the fact that Lundqvist is the best of them all in both the regular season and playoffs is telling. He holds the franchise record in all-time playoff wins with 61.
Lundqvist is widely recognized as being one of the greatest playoff goalies of all-time. In 128 games, he has a .922 SV%, 2.28 GAA, 10 shutouts, and .643 QS%. He not only has a great deal of experience in the playoffs but has also been nothing short of excellent.
Lundqvist is arguably the greatest Game 7 goalie to ever step foot on the ice. In said games he has an outstanding .961 SV% and 1.11 GAA.
How can a team have one of the best to ever do it, both in the regular season and in the playoffs, and not play him? We also mustn’t forget that neither Georgiev nor Shesterkin have any playoff experience.
These numbers are evidence that Lundqvist shines brightest in big moments.
As a matter of fact, even though this year hasn’t been great for him, Lundqvist’s 5.27 HDGSAA (high-danger goals saved above average) was significantly higher than both Georgiev and Shesterkin and was good for 12th in the league.
The King’s still got it.
Seeing and hearing Lundqvist after he arrived at training camp was also encouraging.
He had been visibly down for most of the year but looked and sounded refreshed and said spending time with his friends and family in his home country of Sweden was good for him.
He also trained during the pause and said he “worked on his game technically, physically, and mentally.” He said he feels better and he does look better, especially from what we’ve seen from him at training camp.
It’s important that the coaching staff knows the goalies feel good and are eager to play, and Lundqvist is there.
Quinn and the coaching staff should pick Lundqvist because of his talent, his excellent history (both recent and career) against the Hurricanes, and his experience and success in the playoffs. Plus, Lundqvist has done enough over the years to earn the job.
The greatest player in franchise history deserves another shot at glory. We all know Shesterkin is the goalie of the future and he’ll have his time in the sun.
Lundqvist is approaching the end of road so he should have this opportunity while it’s still there for him, especially since he clearly still has gas left in the tank.
It also can’t hurt for Shesterkin to watch Lundqvist, who is also his idol, play his best and keep his composure on such a big stage. He can learn a lot from this experience.
We also mustn’t act as though putting Lundqvist in net is an irreversible decision. If he struggles and can’t keep it together, Quinn can easily replace him with Shesterkin.
Don’t get me wrong, I do think Shesterkin will be more than fine if he’s given the starting job out of the gate. He may start out a little shaky because of rust and nerves since he’s never played a playoff game before, but he shouldn’t take long to get into a groove.
Similar to what I mentioned, if Shesterkin struggles, Quinn can throw Lundqvist in there to relieve him.
Of all the concerns the Rangers have entering the qualifying round, goaltending is not one of them. However, Lundqvist deserves a chance and brings too much to the table for the coaches to ignore.
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