Henrik Lundqvist says Rangers need to go back to basics
Web linksSteve Zipay's Blue Notes
GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Henrik Lundqvist sat slumped by his locker, staring into the distance and occasionally rubbing his face. His goalie pads still were on and sweat still was dripping after the morning skate at the Rangers' practice facility Saturday.
"You repeat what you've been doing for the past eight, nine years," he said. "Obviously, when things go against you, you want to turn it around . . . and work harder. Sometimes you need to take a step back and take a deep breath and just stick to what you know and what you've been doing for years."
It's been less than two weeks since Lundqvist signed his seven-year, $59.5-million contract extension, but for the Rangers goaltender -- who was benched Thursday after allowing three goals in a little more than 11 minutes against the Columbus Blue Jackets -- the recent stretch has been anything but celebratory.
Still dejected Saturday -- sighing at times, shaking his head at other times and seemingly carrying the weight of the entire lackluster season on his shoulders -- he underlined the need to go back to basics and firm up his and the Rangers' shaken confidence against the Calgary Flames Sunday night.
"We want to turn things around," he said. "We want to win, but sometimes you try so hard that you might beat yourself over it. With me, you have to be smart. You can't do too much. Just try to play your game and play simple."
But the Rangers' recent woes have been anything but simple, and hardly all Lundqvist's fault. Defenseman Marc Staal is out with a concussion, captain Ryan Callahan is out four to six weeks with an MCL strain, and Derick Brassard returns Sunday after suffering a "sore butt" from a fall Tuesday -- all pitfalls that have given them little respite from the trend of sloppy play and anemic scoring.
With the Rangers now ranked second-to-last in the league with an average of 2.18 goals and 14th in the NHL on defense with an average of 2.67 goals against, coach Alain Vigneault conceded that it is time to focus more on clamping down on the odd-man rush and bolstering their still formidable penalty kill -- a stark shift from his usual offensive-minded coaching style.
"It shouldn't be that hard for us to do,'' he said of limiting odd-man rushes. "What's happening is that to some extent, because of our offensive challenges right now, they're trying to create something that's low-percentage and not there . . . Once we get going and get a little swagger, then we can take it to another level, but we don't have that right now."
The culture shift has filtered down through the ranks, though Brad Richards protested that the style of play is not conservative. He added, "There's reconfirming that we need to be on the right side of the puck and play defense first and our offense will come."
There's still that tricky issue of confidence. Lundqvist and company have touched on it quite a bit in the last few games, and the goalie seemed inconsolable after Thursday night's loss. But Richards wasn't about to play that game.
"You can't forget structure and confidence with each other or yourself,'' he said. "[You can't] question your ability or your team's ability or what your coaches are doing. [Sunday] is a great opportunity again. It's a home game and we have to get some traction in here now."