Henrik Lundqvist has been playing much better as of late. Credit: Getty Images
Essentially, head coach Alain Vigneault used a hockey truism to summarized Henrik Lundqvist’s improvement.
The Rangers’ franchise goaltender is stopping the puck.
“I see more saves,” Vigneault said of Lundqvist prior to Sunday night’s Flyers-Rangers game at the Garden. “I like that part.”
“Hank is such a competitor and since Day 1 he [has worked] real hard at his game to get it to the level that he’s used to and gotten everyone used to,” Vigneault said. “He was a little bit off and I think right now he’s back on track. He’s making the key saves at the right time that are permitting us to stay in games, come back in games and win games. That’s what you need from your goaltender.”
Lundqvist, who made the start Sunday, entered the game with a .916 save percentage and a 2.66 goals against average in his last six games dating back to Dec. 29. Lundqvist had played in six of the Rangers’ seven games in that stretch, and compiled a 4-1-2 record. Overall, Lundqvist is 14-16-3 in 34 games with a 2.73 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.
“Probably the best person to ask [about whether Lundqvist’s improvement is due to improved technique or a higher level of confidence] is [goaltending coach] Benoit [Allaire],” Vigneault said. “That’s a coach and a player, that’s a positional job, and it’s a very important job. Ben spends all of his time with his two goaltenders and the goaltenders we have in Hartford, and he does a real good job. He’s been working since day one to get Hank to play up to Hank’s level and I think we’re there.”
As a result, Vigneault sees a team that’s far more confident than it was earlier in the season.
“Goaltender is such an important position, it rubs off on everything. A player makes a mistake and [the] puck ends up in the back of the net, it makes it challenging for him,” Vigneault said. “If the goaltender makes a save, [the player] can tap his goaltender on the pad and say, ‘Thank you.’ He can breathe a little bit easier and not think about that play too much and just move on to the next shift. So now we’re getting those saves and that’s why we’re winning more than we were in the beginning [of the year].”
Still, even with Lundqvist rounding into form, expect to see Cam Talbot make some starts as the Rangers will play 10 games in the next 19 days.
“With the number of games we have to play in a short amount of time I really believe you need two goaltenders,” Vigneault said. “For the most part this year we’ve used two goaltenders.
“I think both are playing well. Both are confident. The team’s confident with both guys so we’re definitely going to use them.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter@DenisGorman.