Henrik Lundqvist has been through a lot of training camps. He’s played with a lot of teammates, and he’s played for a lot of coaches, and he’s had his share of opening night starts.
And it never gets old.
“I’m always excited, just after a long break,’’ Lundqvist said as he continued to prepare for what will be his 14th season with the Rangers. “It doesn’t matter how you play, or who’s in this room. You’re here, you get an opportunity to play this game. And it’s been away from me for a long time. That excitement, that adrenaline that’s been missing for four months now, when you’ve been off, you miss it. You want to get back out there and play some fun hockey.’’
Lundqvist, 36, is energized to play hockey on a rebuilding Rangers team for a rookie head coach in David Quinn because Lundqvist loves the game, loves to compete and loves being in New York. He hated missing the playoffs last season, which happened after Rangers management made the decision to go into rebuild mode, which meant trading veteran players and accumulating young prospects and draft picks. But when offered the chance to leave, Lundqvist chose to stay and help with the rebuild.
He is coming off his worst statistical season in 2017-18, one in which he went 26-26-7, with a 2.98 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage. It was the first season in which he did not have more wins than regulation losses, and his GAA was the highest of his career. Many nights, he could be spotted on the ice glaring at teammates after giving up a goal. After a frustrating loss, he could be surly in the locker room afterward.
But he’s past all that now. His knee, which was injured at the 2017 World Championships and bothered him all last season, feels good this year, he says. And with Quinn emphasizing a new philosophy in the defensive end of the ice, the Rangers should surrender fewer goals than the 268 they allowed last season, which were the fourth most in the league.
Throughout camp, when asked about his expectations for the team, Lundqvist has carefully sidestepped the question, usually keeping his focus in the short term.
“It’s important to focus on camp, get a good start, and then that way, show ourselves, prove to ourselves, ‘How do we stack up?’ ’’ he told Newsday. “And then, yeah, there’s a lot of question marks about this group, and . . . what type of season we’re going to have . . . it's up to us to be very focused on what we need to do early on.’’
So far, he’s liked what he’s seen and heard from Quinn, who has run some fast-paced, high-energy practices, stopping often to detail how he wants players to handle specific situations. Quinn, who flew to Sweden after he was hired over the summer to meet with Lundqvist, Mika Zibanejad and Jesper Fast, is “very open, very easy to talk to,’’ Lundqvist said. “It’s been great to get to know him.’’
Likewise, Quinn is a fan of his new goalie, who he believes – despite his advanced age – will be the same rock in the net that he has always been for the Rangers. Neither the coach nor Lundqvist is willing to put a number on how many games the goalie will play this season, but Quinn said it will be as heavy a slate of games as he has always played.
“I think he can handle a full workload for a No. 1 goalie in this league,’’ Quinn said. “It’s a position where you can play a little bit longer than the other positions, for sure, and I kind of said to him, why can’t he be the Tom Brady of goalies? He keeps himself in incredible shape; he’s an incredible competitor, and he’s shown me no signs of someone who can’t handle a No. 1 workload.’’