‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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An emotional and dejected Henrik Lundqvist sat at his locker stall after Thursday’s 3-1 defeat to the cellar-dwelling Florida Panthers. The hurt in his eyes was evident for all to see.
This loss cut Lundqvist deeply. The Rangers’ iconic net-minder would never point a finger at individual teammates. Lundqvist is far too classy for that, but his message to his teammates was clear — if they don’t raise their game, they’re not going to win many games.
“We did a lot of good things but, you know, it’s getting old,” Lundqvist said. “We just have to put the puck in the net. That’s how you win games. The big difference tonight … I think special teams lost that game.”
The Rangers went 0-for-3 against the league’s 30th-ranked penalty kill. It doesn’t get any worse than that.
It’s rare that a team can put 45 shots on net and not cause enough traffic to make the opposing goalie work. This was the case for the Rangers as Panthers goaltender Jacob Markstrom really didn’t break much of a sweat, despite making 44 saves en route to victory.
Lundqvist shouldn’t be forced to play perfectly between the pipes every night, yet that seems to be the case considering the Rangers’ lackluster offensive zone play and ordinary special teams play.
Once Marian Gaborik scored with 3:48 remaining to put the Rangers within a goal of tying in the third period, Madison Square Garden suddenly became alive with loud chants of “Let’s Go Rangers.” Gaborik made a clear impact by unleashing eight shots on Markstrom, but collectively it was shocking to see the Rangers fail to cash in on their wealth of chances and hand over two points to a Panthers team that was ripe for the picking.
“What’s frustrating is, you look at the game and we had enough chances to tie it up earlier,” Lundqvist stated. “Special teams can be critical down the stretch. The PK, it starts with me. We have to be almost 100 percent here. We’re put into a position where we don’t have luxury of a lot of goals.”
The Rangers had a total of 77 shots attempted against a Panthers team that played a collapsing style. Florida blocked as many Rangers shots (24) as the 24 they were able to test Lundqvist with.
Head coach John Tortorella wasn’t disappointed with his team’s stagnant play in the offensive zone.
“We had 2-to-1 in minutes as far as zone time,” Tortorella said. “We out-chance them 2-to-1, but we’re still not creating enough offense in that amount of time in an end zone. At the end of the game, we need to create more offense in that situation. That’s where we’re at. We need another big play at key time. We’re not just getting it consistently.”
There’s a distinct lack of confidence when the Rangers are on the puck in the other team’s end. The majority of players are passive. They don’t want to take the shot. This is a huge problem for the Blueshirts. When they’re on the power play, the Rangers don’t mind sitting back and firing shots from the perimeter. There aren’t a whole lot of players driving to the net with energy and forcing rebounds.
The Blueshirts aren’t swarming goalies the way winning hockey teams do. Last season, the Rangers weren’t a elite scoring team, but they had a number of players who were willing to get their noses dirty in front of goal and pay the price needed to score ugly. They’re not generating big, juicy rebounds. Last night, Markstrom brushed aside 44 shots without looking troubled.
“You look at teams, I don’t think teams play great all the time, but they find ways to win,” Lundqvist stated. “I think that’s something we’re lacking a little bit this year. It always helps when you get some good bounces, but you have to earn them.”
For too long, Lundqvist has had to stand on his head and play with the focus needed to achieve a superhuman level. Nothing has changed throughout his eight-year NHL career. Since the first day he pulled on the Rangers’ sweater, he’s had to do far too much of the heavy lifting and take on an enormous burden in order to win games.
Take a glance at his statistics. Lundqvist’s .921 save percentage this season is one point higher than his career average. His goals against average of 2.22 is five points less than his career mark of 2.27. Yet he’s nearly a .500 goalie at 13-12-1 this season.
Listen to the way Lundqvist talks. It’s rarely his fault, yet he’s always accountable. He takes losses with a high degree of seriousness and wears the Rangers uniform with a tremendous amount of pride.
At 31, he’s seen far too much underperformance in front of him. It’s time that his teammates pay him back by rallying around their all-world net-minder. Lundqvist deserves to have his name etched on the Stanley Cup one day.
Considering his dedication and unyielding desire to lift the Rangers out of mediocrity, it’s time he’s rewarded with a taste of glory. Now, it’s up to his teammates to do their part. The King deserves to be wearing the crown.
Do you expect the Rangers to get it together on the offensive end soon, or will the entire season continue to rest on Lundqvist’s shoulders? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettHockey.