Hartnett: Rangers Have Many Problems, But Henrik Lundqvist Ain't One

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist
Photo credit USA TODAY Images

Anyone who no longer recognizes Henrik Lundqvist among the NHL’s top-10 goaltenders isn’t watching the Rangers closely.

Former Chicago Blackhawks wing Adam Burish went one step further on the team's pregame show, describing Lundqvist as “the most overrated goaltender in the last 10 years.”

Everyone gathered inside Chicago's United Center on Thursday saw Lundqvist do everything possible to keep the Rangers in a game in which the Blackhawks controlled the puck and dominated territorially. I don’t know if Burish will amend his comments, but if his eyes were following the puck, he surely would have noticed Lundqvist bailing out his teammates time and time again.

In the early minutes of the first period, the Rangers looked every bit a youthful team short of experience. There were multiple instances of teammates colliding into each other and clear paths offered to the Rangers’ net. That experience was trimmed when veteran defenseman Adam McQuaid was unable to return for the final two periods due to a lower-body injury.

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This team is failing to heed a simple message delivered by head coach David Quinn. That message is to shoot the puck. Just shoot it!

The anemic Rangers struggled to generate any kind of offense in the final frame. Chicago outshot the Rangers 14-1 in the third period. The skaters playing in front of Lundqvist failed to connect the dots. They forced passes – blind, hopeful, risky, flat passes that fed the offense of the highly skilled Blackhawks.

You can’t just hand over the puck to Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Alex DeBrincat. Kane, Toews and Keith are perennial All-Stars who were selected to the NHL’s 100 All-Time Greatest Players list in 2017. DeBrincat already has eight goals and six assists through the first 10 games of his sophomore season.

Give a talented team like the Blackhawks the puck and space to operate, and they’ll make any team pay, nevermind a youthful Rangers team that’s struggling to find their footing under a rookie coach. Chicago ranks fourth in the NHL with 3.7 goals scored per game.

Until 4:20 left in the third period, Lundqvist kept the Rangers within striking distance of getting back into this game, but there wasn’t any kind of late offensive charge from his teammates. The Rangers rank 26th of 31 teams with 2.4 goals scored per game.

Lundqvist turned aside 33 of 36 shots faced in Thursday’s 4-1 defeat. The 36-year-old netminder has recorded a sparkling .920 save percentage through his first eight appearances of the 2018-19 season. That’s above his .919 career mark. Yet all he has is a 2-5-1 record to show for it.

His statistics are all the more impressive when you consider how little margin of error he’s allowed to have on a nightly basis. New York has only managed 14 goals in Lundqvist’s eight starts.

This Rangers team possesses a lot of developing youth on the blueline and up front that is learning on the fly. What the Blueshirts lack is genuine scorers – the kind of guys who want the puck on their stick and readily fire away.

From the Alain Vigneault era through the early days of Quinn’s reign, the Rangers have carried too many players whose mentality is somewhere between pass-first and the far extreme of the spectrum that results in needless, risk-inducing over-passing. The Rangers were outshot 37-19 on Thursday.

When a team keeps it simple, positive things can happen. Get bodies and pucks to the net, make the opposing goalie work. The Rangers aren’t doing enough of that, and they’re forcing Lundqvist, on the other end of the ice, to be perfect in every contest.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey​.