Henrik Lundqvist will make his preseason debut when the Rangers play their second game of the preseason Friday in Newark against the Devils. It is the beginning of his 15th season with the club, and there is somehow a different feel to this one.
Both Rangers president John Davidson and coach David Quinn have said Lundqvist, who is 37 and beginning his 15th season with the club, is going to play less this season than he is used to. The trend in the league, both said, is for No. 1 goalies to not play 70 regular season games anymore. Plus, the Rangers have two 23-year-old Russians – Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin – who will be vying for ice time in the net.
For the record, Lundqvist says he’s on board with all that. Although he admits he’s always preferred playing a heavy load of games, he said that he’s struggled some in the second half of each of the last two seasons. Last season, he said, he wasn’t so much physically worn down as emotionally; the trade of his best friend on the team, Mats Zuccarello, clearly took a lot out of him.
“But yeah, I guess I'm gonna have to adjust a little bit in how I practice,’’ Lundqvist said in training camp this week. “Sometimes when you practice, and play a lot, that's more like, you're being out there, just touching the puck. But now it's going to be more days where you have to push yourself, Make sure you're ready when you do play.
“I'm not going to focus too much on how many starts,’’ he said. “I'm going to work as hard as I can and be ready when they tell me to play. And obviously I hope it's gonna be a lot of games. But, what a lot of games as I don't know. I don't know a number and we're not going to target a number. It comes down to how I play; how they play.’’
For now, the official position of Rangers management is that Lundqvist remains the No. 1 goaltender on the team, but as he ages, and the lighter regular season workload is intended to keep him fresh so he can finish strong and be ready if the team makes the playoffs.
“You look at his last two years, he’s had two great first halves,’’ Quinn said of Lundqvist. “We want him to have a great season, so when we do make the playoffs, he’s in a position where he’s fresh, and he’s coming off a stretch of great hockey and he can carry us to the next level.’’
Lundqvist took it hard when the team decided to rebuild two seasons ago. But he decided to stay with the team and help. Now, he is excited by the improvements the Rangers made to the roster, adding defenseman Jacob Trouba, No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko, and dynamic free agent winger Artemi Panarin. He’s not ready yet to make any predictions about the Rangers getting back into the playoffs after a two-year absence, but he feels good about where the team is entering the 2019-20 season.
“We have some really talented players come in, (but) we're still a very young team,’’ he said. “Right now? It's still early, and I honestly don't know what's a realistic goal… Looking at the team, yeah, we should be better, for sure, than last year. I think we have improved, you have the younger guys getting better. We signed some big free agents.’’
"So, if you ask me, I want to make the playoffs."