Lundqvist speaks on being a Ranger, DeAngelo/Lemieux 2020, Quinn changes defense pairs, Strome a game time decision


Better Times: Henrik Lundqvist (seen above with Carey Price) has fallen on hard times since 2017-18. In the first round series versus the Canadiens, he outplayed Price in the 2017 NHL Playoffs. It was his last series win. He had some interesting comments yesterday. AP Photo via Getty Images

A day before returning to action for the first of a traditional home-and-home series against the Red Wings, there are a few noteworthy news items coming following team practice.

The Rangers will first host Original Six rival Detroit later tonight at Madison Square Garden. Game time is 7 PM. They’ll then travel back to Detroit to again take on the Red Wings on Saturday night at the same time. Just your classic back-to-back between two old rivals. If only they were good again.

Currently, the Blueshirts find themselves 11 points behind the final wildcard in the East. It’s a logjam that has first wildcard Columbus at 62 points while the Hurricanes are ahead of the Maple Leafs by virtue of one less game played with each team having 61 points. The Panthers also have 61, but are in third place in the Atlantic Division due to two fewer games played. The Flyers have 60 while the Canadiens are up to 53 due to their 3-1 win over the disappointing Sabres, who remained at 51.

Basically, the Rangers would have to climb over all these teams to make the postseason for the first time since 2017 when Alain Vigneault coached them. It’s unrealistic. It always has been. They do have 34 games remaining. So, they can make up ground quickly if they get out of the gate fast. That means no slip ups versus the NHL’s worst team the next two nights.

Comparatively speaking the Red Wings are as bad as they’ve been in a very long time. With only 28 points in 51 games played, they’re going to lock up the worst record and be in the Alexis Lafreniere Sweepstakes. The next worst team are the Kings with 43 points after winning tonight. Then, you have the middling Devils at 44 followed by the Ducks and Senators, who each have 45. Even the defenseless Sharks are in the mix with 48 due to having no top goalie. They just lost Tomas Hertl for the remainder of the season with a torn meniscus and ACL. He partook in the All-Star Game and scored a few goals. Wow. How did it happen?

At 50 points, the Rangers could go one of two ways. Start winning more consistently and move up the standings. Or lose enough games for management to sell at the February 24 trade deadline. Thirteen games over the next 23 days will determine what the organization decides. That includes key decisions on impending unrestricted free agent forwards Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast. Everyone knows that Kreider is the top rental player available unless he negotiates a new contract with GM Jeff Gorton and Team President John Davidson.

Whatever they do, they’ll also have to figure out what is best moving forward with key restricted free agents Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Strome and Alex Georgiev. Brendan Lemieux is also a Group II this summer. In the mean time, the personable DeAngelo has had some fun on Twitter creating new T-shirts and apparel with Lemieux. They’ve teamed up with iamblueyork.com to make the DeAngelo/Lemieux 2020 shirts available.

I like the fact they can have fun with this. After all, it’s an Election year. That’s my only commentary on it. I think it’s good to have unique character players as part of the team. It can’t always be serious every minute. That’s one of the reasons I hope both DeAngelo and Strome stay. Aside from the performance value Tony Dee is giving, he clearly gets it. He doesn’t take himself too seriously while also being a great locker room guy. Ditto for Strome, who is always a good quote during and after games. So is Kreider. You can see the dilemma they have.

Let’s switch gears and get to some Henrik Lundqvist stuff. As has been repeated over and over again until we’re blue in the faces literally, he’s getting fewer starts due to the play of Georgiev and fresh face Igor Shestyorkin. He was asked about it on Thursday by SNY reporter Jonas Schwartz and how at all it compared to what happened to recently retired New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. Here’s his interesting answer:

First off, I want to compliment Schwartz for having the guts to ask a good question. It wasn’t the same old stuff we see from most beat reporters who at times can be a little gunshy. That’s understandable.

At 37 soon to be 38, Lundqvist’s best days are behind him. It’s kind of eerie how he is basically at the same point of his career as Eli was when he decided to call it quits. The obvious difference is Manning won two Super Bowls with memorable runs that I still can’t believe. What he accomplished during those two championship seasons was incredible. That’s why it’s nonsensical when anyone questions whether he belongs in the Football Hall of Fame. I’d imagine the legendary Dan Marino would trade all his great years as a Dolphin for that one Lombardi Trophy. Phil Rivers might not make it due to not winning one.

As it relates to Lundqvist, who I thought gave a well calculated answer making sure to praise Manning and point out that he arrived a year later, it is interesting to hear him say, “I’ll always feel like a Ranger. … That will never change no matter what.”

He clearly loves it here and everything that comes with being a Ranger including the royal treatment he’s received from a top notch organization. He is a New Yorker in every sense of the word. I remember following this unknown seventh round draft pick they took in 2000 when he starred back home in Sweden for Frolunda where he won a championship. I was excited. I knew he could be the next great goalie. He turned out to be better than even thought. So did Pekka Rinne, who was also taken late by Nashville. It proves that you can find goalies later in drafts. They don’t have to be taken right away like Marc-Andre Fleury, Carey Price, Roberto Luongo or even Rick DiPietro (oops Mike Milbury).

I know he is compared a lot to Fleury due to their career win totals being similar and statistics. But Fleury has won three Stanley Cups. One as the starter and two as the backup, who delivered when he got in for Matt Murray. Ask any Pens fan about his contributions. Then he went to Vegas and achieved something nobody thought was possible. Carried the expansion Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season. That probably puts Fleury over Lundqvist, who has a Vezina and better overall numbers for both regular season and postseason. If only he could’ve won a Cup in the Big Apple. That’s the only thing missing from his resume.

I’m not going to read too much into the quotes. Some have pondered if that measured response meant he could be having second thoughts about being a Ranger for his entire career. I’m not ready to go there. Until proven otherwise, Hank has 100 percent say on what happens. He has a full no movement clause. There’s one more year remaining on a contract that is a cap hit of $8.5 million. The chances of him leaving via trade are the same as Marc Staal.

Do I think it bothers him that he’s got a losing record of 9-10-3 with a 3.18 GAA and. 907 save percentage? Abso-freaking-lutely! He wouldn’t be human if he didn’t feel bad. This is a prideful man who hates losing. It’s been a lot more tough losses since ’18-19 than he wants. These are the numbers since ’17-18:

YEAR GP GS W L T/O GAA SV % SO

’17-18 63 61 26-26-7 2.98 .915 2

’18-19 52 52 18-23-10 3.07 .907 0

’19-20 25 23 9-10-3 3.18 .907 0

It can’t be fun for a goalie once considered one of the game’s best. What does he want to be remembered by? He’s already an all-time Ranger with plenty of franchise records. Yet the debate continues over who you’d want for one winner take all game.

I’m a Mike Richter guy. Not just for what he did in ’94. But for the unreal MVP performance in the World Cup of Hockey and his clutch goaltending in the ’97 run against Florida and especially the Devils. Even near the end, he proved he could still do it for Team USA leading then to a silver medal in ’02. He kept them in that game as long as possible until Canada put it away to win gold.

Would Lundqvist trade it all for one Cup? That includes an Olympic gold medal for Sweden in ’06. I don’t know. There’s nothing else to add.

One last point regarding Georgiev. If they don’t like what’s being offered for a young netminder they can control, the Rangers do not have to trade him. They can put it off until the off-season. This isn’t what some bloggers want you to know. The organization must do what’s best for it moving forward.

With Ryan Strome not practicing due to not feeling well, coach David Quinn indicated he still expects him to play on Friday. He’ll be a game time decision. If not, you could have Brett Howden elevated to the second line with Jesper Fast and Artemi Panarin. Yikes. Howden was penciled in on the fourth line while Lemieux worked with Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko. Hopefully, Strome can go.

Per beat writer Vince Mercogliano, Quinn has decided to change the defense pairs. Only one will remain intact. I was hoping to see Ryan Lindgren get a shot with Jacob Trouba. He finally will. Here’s how the projected D pairings look like:

I think anyone can conclude that Trouba and Brady Skjei have had mixed results together. While Skjei’s offensive production has increased, the defense these two have played has been up and down. And it’s not just Skjei, who is the new whipping boy. Trouba has had bad moments too. Let’s be fair.

I like the idea of trying Skjei with the smooth skating Adam Fox on the second pair. Fox has proven to be very capable at even strength and on the power play. Skjei continues to get the bulk of the minutes five-on-five and the penalty kill.

As for Lindgren, he’s a player on the rise. They clearly like the physical edge he brings. He’s the toughest defenseman this club has had since Mike Sauer. He delivers big hits and remains solid positionally. However, there was a little dip recently between him and Fox. So, Quinn is changing it up. Good.

Marc Staal and Tony DeAngelo stay together as the third pair which is what they should be. It’s better in terms of match-ups. DeAngelo remains a fixture on the power play and in transition due to his superb skill. Staal will continue to kill penalties. A strength for the veteran, who has been better than the silly statistics that Charting Hockey goes by.

Well, that’s going to do it for now. Hopefully, by the time tomorrow’s game rolls around, I feel better. It will be nice to have Rangers hockey back. Also, this is apparently confirmed:

No real surprise. I said in a previous post I’d give Shestyorkin the first game back versus Detroit. He should be the sharpest. I also guessed correctly that Lundqvist, who’s only started two of the last 11 games, would likely get the rematch on Saturday. That leaves Monday open for Georgiev, who I also believe will face the higher quality opponent in Dallas with Philly next.

We’ll see if I’m totally correct.

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 New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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