Two hundred and 63 goals against. That’s a lot of goals. Fourth-most allowed in the NHL in 2017-18. And if you take to heart what some people say on Twitter, they were all Henrik Lundqvist’s fault. The way the Hank haters see it, Lundqvist makes too much money against the salary cap, and he gave up too many bad goals.
But, you know, forget the fact that the Rangers’ defense was a mess all season, and at the end was made up of mostly players called up from the AHL.
And forget the fact that coach Alain Vigneault’s playing style often left the goaltenders to fend for themselves. Under that kind of system, a team is going to allow a few more goals, and that’s fine if the team is getting it done at the offensive end — Grant Fuhr won the Vezina Trophy in 1987-88 and finished second in the Hart Trophy voting with a goals-against average of 3.43 and a save percentage of .881.
But the Wayne Gretzky-Jari Kurri-Mark Messier Oilers didn’t mind winning 5-4 games every night. The 2017-18 Rangers weren’t scoring five goals every night, though.
So the Rangers needed to do better than allowing 3.21 goals per game. But how much of that was the goalies’ fault? Here’s a detailed look at performance of the Rangers’ goaltenders in 2017-18. Advanced statistics provided by Corsica Hockey, and salary figures provided by Cap Friendly.
63 games, 26-26-7, 2.98 GAA, .914 save percentage
Cap hit $8.5 million; signed through 2020-21
Lundqvist, who backstopped the Rangers to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2014, has been the Blueshirts’ best player for over a decade, and even at 36, he’s still the best hope they have of winning every night. It was he, more than anyone, who kept the Rangers in the playoff hunt as long as they were in it. He carried the team on his back for two months.
From Halloween until the end of calendar year 2017, Lundqvist posted a .930 save percentage and a 2.42 GAA as the Rangers pulled themselves out from a bad start and to a 20-13-5 record at the start of the new year.
And after the Rangers threw in the towel on the season, trading away Michael Grabner, Nick Holden, Rick Nash, J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh at the deadline, Lundqvist provided a post-trade deadline boost for the franchise when he made back-to-back 50-save performances in Vancouver and Calgary (on his 36th birthday) to help the Rangers sweep a three-game trip through Western Canada.
One of those saves against Calgary was a diving effort where he deliberately dropped his stick because he knew it would be quicker to get his arm across the goal without the heavy stick in his hand.
Even as the team was torn down around him, Lundqvist competed every night; he burned with every loss. Was he as good this season as he was, say, eight, nine, 10 years ago? No. But he was still plenty good enough to win with. All Lundqvist needs is a real NHL defense in front of him, healthy, committed and playing responsibly. If the Rangers are truly rebuilding, as they say they are, that seems a lot to ask.
19 games, 4-9-1, 3.05 GAA, .910 save percentage
Cap hit $1.3 million; UFA
Playing the role of backup goaltender is no easy task. Ask any number of guys who played that role behind Martin Brodeur in New Jersey all those years.
The No. 1 guy wants to play every game, which leaves very little work for the backup, and little work means little opportunity to get into any kind of rhythm, which means little opportunity to play through mistakes and get stronger and better as the season goes along.
And when you’re in the final year of your contract, as Pavelec was in 2017-18, it also means you don’t get enough work to really show the team that you’re indispensable and they need to re-sign you to a bigger contract.
So, yeah, it was tough for Ondrej Pavelec this year. It didn’t help that he got hurt, either. All that did was force the Rangers to call up Alexandar Georgiev from the AHL, and he played well — perhaps well enough to make Pavelec expendable.
Pavelec, though, did his job quietly and did everything that was asked of him. It’s a business, and so he likely won’t be back next season, but the 30-year-old wasn’t high on the list of problems for the Rangers.
10 games, 4-4-1, 3.15 GAA, .918 save percentage
Cap hit $792,500; signed through 2019-20
Georgiev, 22, turned out to be a revelation for the Rangers. An undrafted free agent who earned a contract after a tryout last summer, Georgiev played most of the season with AHL Hartford, where he went 14-13-2, with a 2.98 GAA and a .909 save percentage for a losing club.
Born in Bulgaria, raised in Moscow and planning for an NHL career since he was 5 years old, Georgiev got his big break when a knee injury to Pavelec in February forced the Rangers to call him up. He wowed Ranger fans and management with how well he played in his 10 games with the club.
As he continued to play well, coach Alain Vigneault kept saying he wanted to see more and more of Georgiev, as he said the Rangers needed to make some decisions regarding the future of the backup goalie position (see Pavelec, above). He certainly gave management something to think about.
18 games, 8-8, 3.15 GAA, .892 save percentage
Cap hit $925,000; signed through 2018-19
An undrafted free agent out of Bowling Green, Nell, 23, split time between Hartford and the ECHL, where he played for three different teams. He’s in the system and under contract, but he’s a long way from the NHL, well down in the pecking order.
28 games, 20-4-4, 1.69 GAA, .933 save percentage (with St. Petersburg SKA of the KHL)
Under contract to St. Petersburg SKA through 2018-19
Generally regarded as Lundqvist’s successor, the 22-year-old Shestyorkin was a fourth-round draft pick by the Rangers in the 2014 draft. He won a gold medal as a backup goaltender for the Olympic Athletes from Russia squad, though he did not appear in any games.
He did play four games in the World Championships, posting three shutouts (vs. Austria, Belarus and Slovakia), before losing to Canada in the quarterfinals of the tournament, 5-4 in overtime.
He’s had many honors, including two bronze medals at the World Championships and a silver at the World Junior Championships in 2015. He also won the Gagarin Cup — the championship of the KHL — in 2017 and he’s slated to be the No. 1 goalie for St. Petersburg this upcoming season, and presumably after that he would come over to the NHL.