We’ve never seen Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers play this badly.
As the winter swoon finally hits the Blueshirts — who were hanging around the Eastern Conference playoff race despite management admitting lean years were ahead due to a rebuild — New York’s veteran goalie and future Hall-of-Famer, along with the rest of his team, are imploding.
After starting the season 12-9-2, the Rangers have won just five of their last 18 games, including a horrific three-game losing streak to kick off 2019 that featured a 7-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on national television, a 6-1 defeat to the slumping Colorado Avalanche, and a 5-0 embarrassment to the lowly Arizona Coyotes on Sunday.
It was the first time since the 1975-76 season in which the Rangers lost three-consecutive games by five goals or more.
Lundqvist was the man in net against Pittsburgh and Arizona, as he resembled more of a sieve rather than the All-Star brick wall that the Madison Square Garden faithful have grown so accustomed to seeing over the past 14 years.
He yielded six goals against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins on Jan. 2, four of those coming on just 15 shots before being pulled early in the third period. After Alexandar Georgiev was lit up by the Avalanche, Lundqvist let five past him on Sunday in just 36 minutes of action. He was pulled with 3:22 left in the second period.
While most of the blame could be placed on him for the Pittsburgh game, Lundqvist was peppered by the Coyotes as the Rangers defense allowed 32 shots to get through on the 36-year-old.
The Swede’s rough stretch suddenly has him on pace for the worst season of his career, though it was a difficult ask for a veteran beginning to slow down to keep up such stellar numbers. He’s posted a 12-11-7 record this year with a goals against average of 3.04, the first time in his career he’s ever had a GAA of three or higher. A .909 save percentage is one point worse than his career low from the 2016-17 season.
It only proves even further that it’s time for the Rangers to do right by Lundqvist and ship him out of town.
Lundqvist is on pace to play 62 games this season, a ridiculous number for a veteran goaltender that has significantly slowed down while on a rebuilding team that is trying to stress youth. The Rangers need to stop expecting Lundqvist to play like the netminder he was from 2007-2016 when he was starting an average of 62 games per season and putting up Vezina Trophy-worthy numbers, especially with a shaky defense in front of him.
It’s becoming clear that the backup Georgiev is not a long-term answer at the position, but he and 29-year-old Dustin Tokarski (currently in the AHL), could at least provide the Blueshirts with bodies at the position while they wait for top goalie prospect Igor Shestyorkin to make his way over from the KHL in Russia should Lundqvist be dealt.
The problem is that Lundqvist has a full no-trade clause in his contract and has not given any sort of inclination that he would waive it should the Rangers decide to pursue a trade. But it’s something management should try and make him consider before the Feb. 25 trade deadline.
Sending him to a contender that needs some added goaltending help could resurrect “The King’s” career. His playing time could be more sensible while manning the crease behind more organized defenses. More importantly, it would provide Lundqvist with a legitimate chance of winning a Stanley Cup, something he’s been unable to do as a good servant for the Rangers.
New York could still get a decent return for the 2012 Vezina winner as a change of scenery and culture as a goalie-desperate franchise in the thick of a playoff hunt could revitalize him.
It’s something to at least consider should the first three games of 2019 indicate how the rest of the regular season will go for the Rangers.