KANATA, Ontario — Henrik Lundqvist was back in goal Friday, when the Rangers visited the better-than-expected Ottawa Senators in the front end of their two-game weekend trip to French-speaking Canada that concludes Saturday in Montreal.
Lundqvist was starting his third straight game, and his first against the Senators this season, after Alexandar Georgiev started both of the teams’ previous meetings. And Lundqvist was taking his first crack at moving past Curtis Joseph and into sole possession of fifth place on the all-time list for goaltending wins. He had tied Joseph’s career total of 454 with his 4-1 win Wednesday over the NHL’s top team, the Washington Capitals.
“It’s a great honor when you reach certain plateaus,’’ Lundqvist said after taking part in Friday’s optional morning skate at Canadian Tire Centre. “You look at certain names on the list, it’s a great honor. I’m proud about it. But then you kind of move on and try and live in the moment. We’re playing a team tonight (in Ottawa) that … is playing pretty good lately. They’re in a similar spot as us, a pretty young team, trying to find that consistency.’’
Ottawa, a team that had been projected at the start of the season to be perhaps the worst in the league, entered the game with a 10-11-1 record, having gone 7-3 in their previous 10 games, a run that started with their 6-2 win over the Rangers on Nov. 4.
For Lundqvist, who entered Friday with a 5-4-1 record, 3.31 goals-against average and .910 save percentage, this has been a season of transition. With the Rangers (9-8-2 entering Friday) in their third season of a rebuild, Lundqvist has seen his win totals dip significantly the last two years. He won 30 or more games in 11 of his first 12 seasons (he won 26 during the lockout season of 2012-13) but had just 26 wins in 2017-18 when the rebuild began. Last season he won 18 games, the first time in his career he didn’t win at least 20.
With the team still rebuilding, and with two highly regarded goalie prospects behind him in Georgiev and Hartford Wolf Pack rookie Igor Shesterkin, Lundqvist’s ice time this season has been reduced in an effort, management says, to keep him fresh for the second half of the season (and the playoffs, if they make it).
And that means that passing Joseph could be Lundqvist’s last milestone for some time. No. 4 on the all-time list is Hall of Famer Ed Belfour, who has 484 wins. At his current pace, Lundqvist isn’t likely to catch Belfour this season.
There’s a good chance Lundqvist may not even finish the season in fifth place. Marc-Andre Fleury, the Vegas Golden Knights goaltender, is right behind Lundqvist, with 450 wins. And Fleury (11-5-2) is getting way more ice time than Lundqvist is. The 34-year-old has started 18 of Vegas’ 24-games.
Lundqvist admitted that he is motivated to keep accumulating achievements and chasing milestones. But he doesn’t have time to look at the big picture right now, he said. For now, all his focus has to be on the next game.
“You keep pushing,’’ he said. “If you want to reach the next (milestone), you have to play a lot more games, you have to win a lot more games. To do that, you have to continue to push yourself to be better and to earn those starts. And also, put your team in a position where you can win.
“So, all those things can lead to good things, but you’ve got to start in the right end,’’ he said. “You just think about, ‘OK, what do I need to do to have success tonight?’ That’s all it is.’’