After another shaky performance in goal last night, Henrik Lundqvist was pegged, as he often is, as that player that has to be better for the Rangers. It’s not unfamiliar rhetoric surrounding The King, who, by virtue of being the team’s best player, is the one who people point to when things aren’t going well. When a team depends on a guy the way the Rangers depend on Lundqvist – placing their fate in his hands almost every night – his struggles become magnified.
In fairness, Lundqvist certainly deserves some of the blame for the Rangers’ slow start to the season. He has just two wins through six starts, while sporting a save percentage south of .900 and a goals against average north of 3.00 – shameful territory for any goaltender. Last night might have been rock bottom, as Lundqvist allowed four goals on 19 shots against a Devils team that has very little interest in scoring.
But the Rangers needn’t worry. For before everyone starts theorizing “what is wrong” with Henrik Lundqvist, they need to remember that early-season rust is the norm for The King.
Since his first full season in 2006/07, he has never played well in the first month of the schedule. Each year has given way to customary October panicking, and each year has resulted in a sterling season. Over the course of his career, Lundqvist’s record in the first month of the season is 35-40. Overall? 278-175. So if anything, with a 2-4 record Lundqvist is right on pace.
The numbers go deeper than that. In 2011/12, Lundqvist’s Vezina-winning season, he stumbled out of the gates with a 2-6 record in October. He had 39 wins by season’s end, the most of his nine-year career. In the five seasons he has earned a Vezina nomination, Lundqvist has posted a winning record in the first month just once.
This isn’t to say that Ranger fans should root for Lundqvist to lose the rest of his starts this October. It’s not as though he has to be porous this month to be impermeable the following six. But there’s certainly a pattern here, if not a correlation.
Quite simply, Lundqvist needs time to find his groove. And when he finds it, he doesn’t lose it. If his goals against average is 3.45 right now, expect it to be closer to 2.8 in December. By March, don’t be surprised if it’s down right around 2.00. By then, the notion that Lundqvist could be capable of struggling will seem laughable.
That’s the effect of playing so well, so consistently, for eight seasons. People simply come to expect it. When your game falters, as anyone’s will, the panic buttons are pressed and the emergency alarms are rung. How is this happening?? Something must be wrong.
But with Lundqvist, such apprehension is unwarranted. Perhaps, if he was off to a 6-0 start and kicking out pucks in bunches, it would be time to worry. That would be ominously out of character. But at 2-4 and struggling in October, Lundqvist is primed for another monster year on Broadway.