Lundqvist to blame for loss to Ducks

AP Photo by Anaheim Ducks via Getty Images

On the fourth and final game of a Western road trip, the Rangers weren’t perfect. That much is true. Even though they jumped out to a quick two goal lead duel to the Ducks looking sleepless, they were severely outplayed in a bad second period by the Anaheim hosts.

However, a strong third period should’ve been enough to win the game in regulation. Especially with a brilliant Mika Zibanejad getting his second of the game with a sweet finish to beat John Gibson early. Instead of getting the two points and making it a very successful three of four, they watched a inconsistent Henrik Lundqvist give up a bad goal to Anaheim defenseman Hampus Lindholm with under two minutes left in regulation to force extras.

For the most part, Lundqvist was brilliant in making 39 saves including 17 of 18 in a lopsided second that saw his team get outshot 18-3. The issue is he gave up two questionable goals of the three permitted in a disappointing 4-3 shootout loss to the Ducks. He clearly could’ve had the second and third ones, which would’ve guaranteed a 3-1-0 road trip. He just didn’t make the key stops.

Even if you want to blame the defense, the truth is Lundqvist isn’t the same goalie anymore. It’s a narrative MSG doesn’t share unless you listen to the radio broadcast like I did. Dave Maloney was quick to point out that Lundqvist hasn’t been on top of his game by referencing goals to noted snipers Erik Gudbranson and Lindholm. He also was all over Kaapo Kakko for refusing to shoot the puck on a wide open scoring chance in a horrible second. Kakko tried a pass across to Artemi Panarin, who fanned on the shot. Panarin continues to play unbelievable. He notched his team-leading 19th goal to give the team a 2-0 lead before four minutes had been played.

The fast start happened right away. On some forecheck pressure from Pavel Buchnevich that forced a Ducks turnover, Zibanejad wound up with a breakaway and went forehand deke backhand to beat Gibson only 10 seconds into the game. It was a filthy move and finish by the number one center who’s heating up. He followed a two goal game in San Jose with another pair. On the road trip, Zibanejad had five goals. He also scored the only Ranger goal in the shootout that Lundqvist couldn’t protect.

With Anaheim shaky from the start, a defensive lapse allowed Ryan Strome enough room to retrieve a loose puck and make a great backhand pass for an open Panarin that he finished at 3:59 for a 2-0 lead. It looked like the floodgates would open. However, Gibson made some big stops when his flat team needed it.

An Adam Fox minor for hi-sticking Ryan Getzlaf swung the momentum. On the power play, the Ducks were able to convert when Jakob Silfverberg deflected home a Lindholm point shot with three seconds remaining on it to pull within a goal. Rickard Rakell helped set it up. He’s probably one of the most underrated players in hockey. But he plays for a mediocre team and doesn’t get much fanfare. Kinda like Silfverberg, who did in Lundqvist with a backhand in Round 4 of the shootout.

Getzlaf gets all the attention because he’s their captain and helped lead them to their only Stanley Cup a dozen years ago. But that was a loaded championship team that featured Hall Of Fame defensemen Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. Plus Hall Of Famer Teemu Selanne, former sidekick Corey Perry and the popular Jean-Sebastien Giguere. That was a great roster. It would destroy a lot of teams today.

To be fair, Getzlaf remains productive. He entered the game leading the Ducks in scoring with 25 points (10-15-25). He’s closing in on 1,000 points. For his career, he has 948 (271-677-948). From the famed ’03 NHL Draft, Getzlaf is still going strong. Only Eric Staal has more points (997). Patrice Bergeron is third with 839. It looks like all three centers will make Toronto when their careers are over.

In terms of what happened to the Rangers between the first and second periods, I don’t know. Maybe they got tired. It was the fourth game out West. But each game was spread out without any back-to-backs. So, it shouldn’t have been a problem. They just couldn’t grab back the momentum. Instead, Lundqvist never recovered to stop a Gudbranson point shot that tied it up just 1:02 into the second. Rakell (2 assists) and old Rangers killer Adam Henrique set it up. Maloney killed Lundqvist for it. And for good reason.

When the other team’s Twitter feed notes that he came way out of the crease and couldn’t recover, it’s not a good thing. This is as bad as I’ve ever seen Lundqvist look on a goal against. What was he doing? NYR Twitter went into overdrive on it. I only heard it on the radio as called by Don LaGreca, who I have tremendous respect for, and further broken down by Maloney. A down the middle former captain who doesn’t make excuses like Steve Valiquette. Sorry Vally. But he’s went out of his way to defend Hank this season while suggesting Alexandar Georgiev be traded like the senile Larry Brooks, or one of the popular blogs that just isn’t seeing things the same. More fans are.

Personally, I have plenty of admiration for what Lundqvist has achieved. He’s the all-time franchise leader in wins (456), games played (875), shutouts (63) and total minutes (51,248) among Blueshirt goalies. He’s got several records that’ll probably never be matched due to the notable change with more tandems now en vogue. The days of leaning on one netminder are close to extinction. Although you wouldn’t know it by the way both Montreal and Toronto operate. If you subtracted Carey Price from the Canadiens, they’d be awful. Ditto for Frederik Andersen of the Maple Leafs. To an extent, Marc-Andre Fleury of Vegas too although they’ve discovered that Malcolm Subban can play.

Do I feel that Lundqvist is defended way too much by the media and online, etc? Yes. He’s not the same guy he was in ’12, ’14 or ’15. It happens. No elite goalie can stay at the top forever. Even the legendary Martin Brodeur eventually fell apart after his great postseason at 40 at our team’s expense. The Devils haven’t recovered since due to replacement Cory Schneider having too many injuries and not enough help. He’s in the AHL struggling mightily. Sad. Taylor Hall is about to be traded.

For all the talk about Lundqvist pro or con, he’s nearing the end. Maybe he can be revitalized on expansion Seattle in 2021. By then, he’ll be 39 and unrestricted after his contract expires. That’s if Team President John Davidson doesn’t make a very hard decision. The one that some people don’t want to acknowledge. If you dare call out the goalie, the homers come out of the woodwork. They’ll blame everything else but King Henrik. I blame the organization for creating the alter ego which Brooks started for fun in the New York Post. It’s taken on a life that’s become insane. Some fans only go to see him. Not cheer the team. It’s about the logo on the front. Not the back.

While Lundqvist alternates starts with the younger and more unflappable Alexandar Georgiev, who wins more than he loses and is steadier, Igor Shesterkin is continuing to perform extremely well in the AHL with the Hartford Wolf Pack. At what point do they decide to recall the soon to be 24-year old Russian to see what they have?

These are questions that need to be asked. Especially regarding the franchise’s future. They have to also make a decision soon on college prospect Tyler Wall. Plus Olof Lindbom is in Sweden. Goalie depth isn’t an issue. You also have Adam Huska backing up Shesterkin at Hartford. Like defense, it’s a organizational strength. Ditto for center. At some point, they’re going to make some trades to maybe add more scoring help for Panarin and Zibanejad.

Plus the impending UFA of Chris Kreider likely signals the end of a good team guy that’s first in tipped goals the past few years. He’s always a good quote following tough losses like today. If he is moved at next February’s trade deadline, that’s a valuable player you don’t replace. There will also be intriguing decisions on key restricted free agents Strome, Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Lemieux. Three key players who have all been instrumental on this roster through 32 games.

Had Lundqvist been able to stop Lindholm’s shot off a rush that had a small screen for a second Anaheim power play goal with Brady Skjei in the box for tripping, the Blueshirts get the win. And Zibanejad’s second tally at 1:14 of the third would’ve stood as the game-winner. But he couldn’t quite close it up with the puck going through his arms. He only got a piece of it.

In the three-on-three freefall, Gibson robbed Zibanejad of a sure winner on what sounded like a great move. From the sounds of it on the radio, I was expecting to hear that he scored and won the game in overtime. Instead, it went to the shootout. Here was Silfverberg’s winner that followed Gibson denying Kakko in the top of the fourth:

Like predecessor Ondrej Kase, who extended the skill competition with a brilliant forehand deke backhand high glove, Silfverberg was able to change the angle to notch the winner. His backhand wasn’t as high, but did the job to beat Lundqvist, who hasn’t won any of his last four starts (0-2-2). His last victory came against Carolina on Nov. 27. Ironically, his best game of the season in which he made 41 saves at MSG.

For the year, Henrik Lundqvist is 7-7-3 with a 3.13 GAA and .912 save percentage. While the save percentage is fine, he’s not as consistent. Something that happens with aging goalies. Will he always be appreciated for what he’s accomplished including a Vezina when he was at his peak in ’11-12? Absolutely. I think that point has been lost. Something the well respected Kevin DeLury highlighted in a Tweet.

Kevin’s the voice of reason. He understands that things have changed. I also agree with him 💯 percent that they won’t trade Lundqvist, or as suggested in other spaces, buy him out. They’re going to let it play out. That’s $8.5 million reasons for more insanity and heated debates. I got partially into it with one fan, who was quick to point the finger at the D. It’s young and that means there’ll be moments of inexperience. At the moment, both Fox and Ryan Lindgren are struggling. Perhaps they’ve hit the rookie wall.

What has to be understood is that like it or not, the goalie is the last line of defense. Sometimes, you need them to steal games. Hank’s done it once. Georgiev in a few. He’s been the better goalie since last February. I am not going to bother citing the statistics. It can be looked up.

So, what will happen the rest of the way? Nothing. If you’re looking for controversy, it won’t happen. What needs to is Lundqvist picks it up. Otherwise, then the conversation could be completely different next Spring. I’m assuming no playoffs. They’re not ready yet. If I’m wrong, save this and don’t forget to let me hear about it. I won’t disappear 😉. Just ask my friends.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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