ST. LOUIS - Henrik Lundqvist's workload has been dialed back one season after he appeared in a career-high 73 games.
And it appears that he's more dialed in.
Latest Rangers stories
Halfway through this season, the 27-year-old Swede is on pace to play 66 games, which should leave the Rangers' MVP fresher late in the season.
For coach John Tortorella and goaltender coach Benoit Allaire, that has been the strategy all along. "Hank is not going to play that many games again," Tortorella vowed in September. "He's a competitive guy who wants to play every game, but I'm telling you, it's not going to happen."
Tortorella said Saturday the rest has "absolutely" helped Lundqvist, who sat last night in favor of Martin Biron, the veteran who was signed in July and who has spelled him superbly in the first half, posting a 6-3 record and a 2.39 goals-against-average in 11 appearances.
Tortorella said that Biron "played well enough to win the Florida game [a 3-0 loss], we just didn't give him any run support at all. He needs to be part of this, we have five back to backs this month, 14 games, and in the long run, it'll be good for our No. 1 goaltender."
Tortorella did not have that option last season, when his backup choices were Steve Valiquette and rookies Chad Johnson and Matt Zaba.
Lundqvist regularly credits the work ethic, mindset and patience of his teammates, especially in low-scoring games, and when the Rangers are tied or trailing in the third period. They are a league-best 5-9-3 when trailing after two periods.
"It's about minimizing your mistakes," said Lundqvist, who, by his own admission, has allowed some soft goals that cost the Rangers points before this current streak, during which he is 11-4-2 with a 1.78 goals-against-average, a .934 save percentage and three shutouts. "I think it's important that we don't think too much . . . just go out and play," he said.
"Don't try to be too fancy. Lately we have been playing the same at home as on the road," where the Rangers were 14-7-1 before last night's game against the Blues. Lundqvist was leading NHL netminders with 12 road victories and fifth with 18 wins.
"Hank has kept us in so many games, it's not funny," left wing Brandon Dubinsky said. "With him back there, it seems like we always have a chance to win."
Lundqvist's shootout stats are impressive as well. After stopping all three Stars attempts in a 3-2 shootout win in Dallas on Friday night, his save percentage is .824 (14 for 17), behind only LA's Jonathan Quick and Calgary's Mikka Kiprusoff among goaltenders who have faced 15 attempts.
And although he isn't as adept in puck-handling as Biron or other goaltenders, that segment of his game had developed since last year.
"That was the last thing (general manager) Glen (Sather) told me before I went home last year, I just have to be better around the net," said Lundqvist, who has a career-high three assists this season, including two in consecutive games, against Carolina and Dallas. Rick DiPietro was the last goalie to accomplish that (Dec. 26, 2008 and Jan. 2, 2009). Wayne Thomas was the last Ranger, (Oct. 25, 1980 and Dec. 5, 1980.)
"I've started to feel like I'm better placing the puck for the D," said Lundqvist, "not so much as making great passes, just touching pucks into the corners for the D to pick up in speed, and I've started to get more comfortable passing the puck."