By now, it’s fairly obvious that the Rangers are a one goalie team. Based on the current situation, they’ll go as far as Henrik Lundqvist takes them.
Thus far, he’s started 22 of 25 games including 13 straight. The recent good stretch since Halloween got the team back in the Metro Division. A tight race where no one has really separated themselves from the pack. Ten total points separates first place Columbus from last place Philadelphia.
Until Tuesday’s tough 5-4 loss to Florida, the Rangers had been playing better winning 10 of 12 on the back of Lundqvist. But a couple of breakdowns in a disjointed first period saw him allow three goals on six shots to be replaced by Ondrej Pavelec. The backup made a rare appearance. He’s only started three games.
If there was a area that was a cause of concern entering the season, it was the lack of a quality backup. Let’s face it. Pavelec doesn’t come close to Lundqvist’s last two. In Antti Raanta and Cam Talbot, the Rangers knew they could trust each to come in and give Lundqvist some much needed rest. That came in handy when injuries and struggles resulted in Talbot and Raanta holding down the forte.
There isn’t that same confidence in Pavelec, who once was Winnipeg’s number one before falling from grace. He spent part of last year in the AHL. That’s why there was a roll of the eyes at GM Jeff Gorton’s signing. Goalie coach Benoit Allaire has been a miracle worker with even current MSG analyst Steve Valiquette crediting him for extending his career. But sometimes, you can push the envelope too far.
While a easy schedule has allowed coach Alain Vigneault to ride Lundqvist, it will pick up. Of course, the King always wants to play because it allows him to find a rhythm. He had his save percentage up to .918 recently. But it went back down to .914. Three goals allowed on six shots in less than 20 minutes of action will do that.
At 35, Lundqvist can’t be everything to the team every night. Or as Sam Rosen proclaimed in a recent win, “It’s all Henrik Lundqvist!” That followed a series of big saves.
With him older and the game opening up, he can’t be as consistent anymore. The odd goals are more frequent. When they come, we shouldn’t be surprised. Without Lundqvist, there is no Rangers renaissance post lockout. There are no three trips to the Conference Final and the franchise’s only Stanley Cup appearance since I was still in high school.
We have been lucky and privileged to have such a classy star athlete to root for. A prideful man who understands how hard it is to win a Cup. Will he ever get another opportunity? 2014 came and went. He can’t do it all alone. The team must play well.
That includes the rarely used Pavelec, who stopped 19 of 21 shots in relief the other night. But he couldn’t prevent the game-winner with 1:09 left. More the product of awful defense from Brendan Smith and Nick Holden.
Do they have full confidence in Pavelec? There isn’t anyone in Hartford coming. Gorton needs to consider making a trade for a better backup. It can’t be a one man show in net. They won’t survive.