Henrik Lundqvist backstopped his way to an undoubtedly elite career for the New York Rangers. Lundqvist played with the likes of Jaromir Jagr, Marian Gaborik, and Rick Nash in the prime of their respective careers, yet never won a Stanley Cup. As the Rangers continue to pile up the wins despite concerns on the roster, Lundqvist’s role continues to clarify. He is the savior of the team, and therefore the downfall of the team as well.
Any argument that insists that Henrik Lundqvist is not an elite goaltender is ludicrous. Placing the blame on Lundqvist is a hopeless task that identifies the blamer as inept. There is a catch to the blame game, however. Lundqvist can be blamed for his inability to win the Stanley Cup for the sole reason that he is too good at hockey for his own good. Yes, Henrik Lundqvist’s talent is to blame for any struggles Henrik Lundqvist has to win.
When a team has an elite player, it allows the team to feel complacent in other areas. For example, the Montreal Canadiens went into the 2015-16 season with a poor offense and depth-lacking defense because they could not identify their weaknesses. Carey Price’s phenomenal play shadowed the weaknesses.
For the New York Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist does the same. Whenever the Rangers are struggling, it is Lundqvist that picks up the team. Whenever there is a weakness that appears exploitable, Lundqvist puts together a performance that stymies the opponents gameplan. There is no way to count on Henrik Lundqvist having a poor performance.
The rest of the team is far less accountable as a result, as when teams are winning the talk is about winning, not struggling. For example, the current New York Rangers are among the best teams in the entire NHL. The talk of the league is the Rangers strengths at forward and in the net, not the glaring weakness on defense.
Lundqvist’s ability to stop the defense’s mistakes from entering the back of the Rangers net helps the team win, but also puts the team at a long term disadvantage. For every mistake Lundqvist covers up, there is one fewer strike against the player that makes the mistake. On the scoreboard, Dan Girardi turning over the puck only spells trouble if the puck ends up in the net.
Girardi has been a major beneficiary of Lundqvist’s phenomenal play, a concerning trend for the Rangers. Girardi’s constant turnovers and inability to get the puck out of his own zone would spell trouble for the average team. However, with Lundqvist in net, those miscues do not result in goals.
Girardi is often lauded for his ability to work in tandem with Ryan McDonagh to stop the top offenses in the NHL. The argument is that Girardi must be a top defenseman if he can shutdown Sidney Crosby in the postseason. What is happening, however, is Lundqvist is making saving more than only the puck in those moments. For every save Lundqvist makes in the key moments, Lundqvist is also saving the reputation of the players in front of him.
So, the New York Rangers believe they can get away with having a horrendous defense. Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein skate freely, while the team continues to rack up the wins. The wins are enough to keep everyone from looking closer at the picture. The Rangers’ possession numbers continue to spill, and Girardi and Klein continue to spend more time aiding opponents than the Rangers.
As long as Lundqvist is an elite goaltender, the wins will pile up. As long as the wins pile up, changes will not be demanded. The cycle is vicious and one that is impossible to escape unless Jeff Gorton acknowledges that he can have a tremendous goaltender and more. New York must not be content with winning, they must be content with owning a complete roster.
However, when Henrik Lundqvist is in net, a complete roster does not appear to be necessary. Lundqvist can fix the mistakes. Lundqvist is the Rangers’ savior, and therefore when the miscues build up to a level even Lundqvist cannot handle, he is their downfall.