As always, Henrik Lundqvist was surrounded by reporters at his stall.
It was a few minutes after the Rangers’ 7-6 loss to the Stars last Tuesday night at the Garden, and Lundqvist had allowed all seven Dallas goals in two periods before being replaced by Magnus Hellberg.
Faces were grim. The words were quiet and clipped.
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“It’s embarrassing, frustrating and disappointing at the same time,” Lundqvist told reporters. “I spent the last 24 hours really working hard and trying to prepare for this game and you come out and get a pretty good start, then (in) our first period there were a couple missed plays where they made us pay.Most goals were scored right in front. As a goalie, you need to just be more aware I guess.
“The bottom line is I need to find another level; it’s not good enough. Obviously when you’re looking for confidence and a good feeling you’re hoping for a game where there’s a lot of structure and shots are more to the outside, but that’s not the case right now. There are a lot of opportunities right in front and I just need to find a way to get going.But it’s hard when you’re trying to do all the right things and it’s not paying off right now.”
Essentially, those words summarize Lundqvist’s 2016-17 season. Following Sunday’s 1-0 overtime win over the Red Wings in Detroit, Lundqvist has a 20-12-1 record with a 2.77 goals against average, two shutouts and a .904 save percentage.
Perhaps most troubling is that Lundqvist has a 3.82 goals against and .867 save percentage in the eight games he has played in January, as of this writing.
A butterfly goaltender, Lundqvist has appeared to be over-aggressive and not fully squared to shooters at times this season, which has led to a debate on social media: Is Lundqvist at fault or has he been hung out to dry by his teammates and their defensive zone coverage?
To hear Alain Vigneault, the issues are intertwined.
“There’s no doubt that we need to do a better job in front of our net. Our offensive game is pretty good at this time, but defensively obviously there are too many breakdowns,” Vigneault said after the loss to the Stars. “On three of the first four goals we have someone in front of the net, we’re just not taking the pass. Twice were defensemen, once it was a forward. It’s an easy read to make, it’s an easy pass to take, and we don’t take it. We give the other team a grade-A opportunity. It’s something that we can work on, we’re going to work on, we’re going to try to get better.”
Shortly thereafter, the coach spoke about his goaltender.
“He’s doing what a professional is supposed to do: He’s trying to work on his game, he’s trying to work on the areas where he needs to get better. And we as a team in front of him, there are areas that are obvious to everybody (to improve on). We are in front of our net, but we’re not taking the passes. We need to work on that,” Vigneault said.
And it should be noted the Rangers appeared far more structurally sound in road wins over Toronto (5-2 on Jan. 19) and the Red Wings Sunday.
With 35 games remaining in their regular season, the Rangers are 30-16-1 and have a firm grasp of the first Eastern Conference Wild Card slot. Their 61 points are 10 more than Toronto, which has the second berth. And the Rangers are a full 11 points ahead of Philadelphia, whom they will play Wednesday at the Garden.
Still, for a group whose collective goal is to win the franchise’s fifth Stanley Cup, if the playoffs began today, the Rangers would need to roll a lot of sevens and hope their potential playoff opponents drain physically, mentally and emotionally drain each other.
The Blueshirts’ forward depth has played a role in the team’s success this season. Bottom-six forward Michael Grabner leads the team with 21 goals. What is noteworthy about Grabner’s season is that twenty of his 21 goals have come at even strength. The other goal was shorthanded.
And for as much of a talking point as the defense corps has been this season, the left side has been fine with Ryan McDonagh, Brady Skjei and Marc Staal. Newcomers Nick Holden and Adam Clendening have not been out of place.
But the play of longtime right side stalwarts Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein has been a season-long talking point. So much so that right side UFA-to-be defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk has been linked to the Rangers since last season.
Shattenkirk, who grew up in Westchester and will turn 28 Sunday, has 32 points (11 goals and 21 assists) in 47 games with the St. Louis Blues this season. for his career, he has 274 points (66 goals and 208 assists) in 457 games according to NHL.com.
Citing a report from TSN hockey reporter Darren Dreger, The Hockey News suggested Shattenkirk would consider signing an extension should the Blues trade him. The outlet went out to say Dreger noted the defenseman had the Rangers—among a list of seven teams—he would “consider.”
Industry website CapFriendly.com estimates the Rangers will have $8.967 million in available cap space by the Mar. 1 NHL trade deadline. The site also reports Shattenkirk will earn a pro-rated $4.25 million for the remainder of this season.
Before printing the jerseys and t-shirts, the question of what St. Louis would demand in return for Shattenkirk needs to be asked. Despite being in the midst of a three-game losing streak, the Blues hold the first Western Conference Wild Card slot. But unlike the Rangers, St. Louis’ playoff position is hardly secure. Calgary has the same number of points and has the second Wild Card berth. Those teams are being chased by Vancouver, Los Angeles, Winnipeg and Dallas.
So it wouldn’t make sense to trade Shattenkirk for anything less than a blow away offer. And it would seem unlikely that the Rangers would trade anyone from their NHL forward roster. Why subtract a strength unless it is guaranteed Shattenkirk will sign an extension.
Should the Rangers trade for Shattenkirk, the question of what happens to Girardi and Klein has to be answered. At first glance, it would seem likely that Vigneault would pair McDonagh with Shattenkirk. As noted above, the Staal-Holden pairing has been fine, which would leave Skjei needing a new partner and the triumvirate of Girardi, Klein and Clendening battling for the sixth and seventh defensemen roles.