Henrik Lundqvist was back between the pipes for the Rangers Wednesday, starting in goal against the Detroit Red Wings at the Garden, 10 days after his last appearance. That kind of layoff isn’t at all what the 37-year-old is used to. In fact, this whole season, so far, has been anything but business as usual for Lundqvist.
It began with the declaration at the start of training camp by Rangers president John Davidson – echoed by coach David Quinn – that Lundqvist’s ice time would be reduced this season. The team’s rationale is it wants to keep Lundqvist fresh for a potential playoff run, while also giving Alexandar Georgiev a chance to play enough to continue his development. Then, there was that crazy early season schedule that saw the Rangers start with three games in the first 14 days. Finally, Lundqvist had to sit and watch while Quinn rode a hot Georgiev for three starts in a row.
“I know it's going to be different this year, but also the schedule has made the whole thing very different,’’ Lundqvist said following Wednesday’s morning skate. “Like I’ve said, when you're not playing, you try to just be focusing on what you do in practice and how you prepare yourself. That's all you can do — not think too much when you're about to play. It's more about the preparation and what you can control.’’
Lundqvist clearly isn’t controlling as much as he used to this season. The Rangers may have turned the corner on the rebuild they announced in February 2018, but they’re not ready to contend just yet. They’re still a young team – the youngest in the league, in fact – with seven players on the roster 21 years old or younger, including three 21-year-old rookie defensemen. So, while the additions of Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, and 18-year-old Kaapo Kakko have greatly improved the roster, the Blueshirts are still in for a roller-coaster ride this season. And Lundqvist knows it.
“Yeah we added a couple players, but a big part of our team is a lot of young guys trying to learn and get that experience,’’ he said. “And if you look at our game so far, it is a little up and down, and I think that comes with the learning process. But hopefully we can improve that and be very consistent. I think that's how you win and get points in this league. It's being consistent, and not have your great game and then you fall down.’’
Lundqvist entered Wednesday with a 2-3 record, a .906 save percentage, and a swollen 3.58 goals-against average. He didn’t finish his last start, coming out after two periods (four goals allowed, on 31 shots) in an ugly 7-4 loss to the Boston Bruins on Oct. 27. Despite the numbers, though, Quinn said he thought Lundqvist has “had a good year.’’
“I think he’s done a good job adapting to a reduced workload (and), just the way the league’s going and the situation we’re in, I think he’s going to benefit from it, long term,’’ Quinn said.
Quinn said on Monday that though Lundqvist had to sit for a while as Georgiev strung a few starts together, he will get his turn to go on runs, too. In fact, Quinn said at Wednesday’s morning skate that Lundqvist could be back in goal as soon as Thursday, as the Rangers complete a back-to-back with a road game in Carolina against the Hurricanes.
“We'll see how tonight goes, see what type of game develops,’’ the coach said. “There's a chance he could play (Thursday).’’