Henrik Lundqvist

Henrik Lundqvist’s excitement for new season bubbling over

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Henrik Lundqvist is the man who holds it together in Manhattan for the New York Rangers. He’s their top goalie and he’s one of the best in the NHL. While the Rangers have had their struggles in recent years in making it to the playoffs or just missing out, they’d be going nowhere without Lundqvist holding things down.

Lundqvist got his new season off to an early beginning getting to play the first 30+ minutes of the Rangers’ preseason opening 2-1 overtime loss to the Devils. Lundqvist stopped 17 of 18 shots during the first half of the game and for him, it was the exact kind of welcome back to real game action he was looking for.

“I think it’s good I get out there right away and start working on my game and timing and focus. It’s one thing to practice on your skill and technique but to play the game it’s a lot of mental approach and how you focus for the game. It’s good to get out there right away and start working and it’s fun,” Lundqvist said. “I missed the game.”

Wait, even a preseason game is exciting? Is it more fun than the stressful regular season?

“No… It’s more fun in the regular season. The excitement, the feel, the pressure… You’re nervous and anxious. You see how fun the game is. I love the game. It feels great to be back… But when it really starts is when the real fun begins.”

The Rangers kick off their season in Europe for the NHL Premiere series in Prague, Czech Republic and Gothenberg, Sweden and for Lundqvist, it’s a trip he’s eager to make with the team.

“I’m really excited about that trip. Starting off in Prague and then to Gothenberg to play my old team and get to play against my twin brother. I’m excited to bring this team there and show them Sweden a little bit. I’m real excited about that.”

With the Rangers heading into what could be a very big season for them, Lundqvist is excited by everything that lies ahead for the team. From the additions of guys like Brad Richards and Mike Rupp as well as seeing a lot of the same guys come back from last season, he’s encouraged by where the Rangers are headed.

The work Rangers GM Glen Sather  did in the offseason was to not radically change things up. Retaining restricted free agents Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, and Michael Sauer helped keep a strong group of guys in tact. In past seasons, the Rangers would drastically change the landscape of the team by signing many big names while foregoing how they develop players.

By retaining their youthful group of players and continuing to develop more of them, the Rangers are building from within rather than taking chances with high-priced stars. That’s an effort Lundqvist seems to be in full support of.

“You know, I looked around a couple weeks ago and it was fun to recognize so many guys. I think the management did a great job to re-sign a lot of the guys. We have a good corps, a good group here,” Lundqvist said. “We’ve got an interesting group and I think everyone is excited to start playing and see what we can do as a group.”

With the Rangers’ kids growing up and experienced vets like Rupp and Richards helping fill out ranks, all Lundqvist might have to be is his usual brilliant self to help get the Rangers deeper into the playoffs. After all, Lundqvist seems more than eager to bring on the pressure and fun that is the playoffs.

Clutter-bucks: Isles sign energy guy to five-year, $17.5 million extension

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 03:  Cal Clutterbuck #15 of the New York Islanders scores his second goal of the game at 9:53 of the third period against the Dallas Stars at the Barclays Center on January 3, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  The Islanders defeated the Stars 6-5. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Islanders made a splash on Friday, signing veteran forward Cal Clutterbuck to a five-year, $17.5 million extension — one that carries a $3.5 million average annual cap hit through 2023.

Clutterbuck, 29, has two goals and nine points through 25 games this year, while averaging 15:26 TOI per night (his highest average since joining the Isles four years ago). As per usual, he leads the club in hits — one of the staples of his game — and serves as one of the club’s alternate captains.

This new contract represents a nice raise for the former Minnesota Wild man. His last contract, set to expire in July, was of the four-year, $11 million variety, and carried a $2.75 million cap hit.

This contract also resembles the one GM Garth Snow gave another of the club’s role forwards. This summer, Casey Cizikas signed a five-year, $16.75 million extension — one with a $3.35 million hit — despite the fact he’d never scored more than 30 points in a season, or averaged more than 14 minutes of ice time.

This style of spending — along with splashes made for free agent disappointments Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd — is sure to raise some questions. The Isles opted not to spend that money on retaining two of their key players from a season ago, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo, and the club has struggled to find its form through the first quarter of this year.

Bettman: Salary cap could stay the same for next season

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman unveils the League's Centennial celebration plans for 2017 during a press conference at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 27, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Don’t expect a big jump in next season’s salary cap.

“We’re not going to give out any numbers now,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said yesterday, per Yahoo Sports. “The cap could range from where it is now to a couple or so million up, but we’re all going to have to focus on what makes the most sense moving forward.”

The salary cap only went up slightly for the current season, from $71.4 million to $73 million. The only slight increase was due to the lower Canadian dollar, which negatively impacted last season’s league revenues by “$100 or 200 million,” Bettman said earlier this year.

The loonie has been holding relatively steady for around half a year. It’s currently worth $0.76 USD and has been helped by the recent oil rally.

A flat salary cap would be bad news for big spenders like the Chicago Blackhawks, who still need to get Artemi Panarin signed to an extension. The Los Angeles Kings could also be forced to make some tough decisions, as they’ve got Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson in need of new deals. Ditto for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have key RFAs in Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Conor Sheary.

Related: Trades galore? McPhee expecting ‘a massive player redistribution before the expansion draft’

A few ‘bad decisions’ have been costing Lundqvist

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) reacts after giving up a goal to Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, in New York. The Penguins won 6-1. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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Henrik Lundqvist has set such a high bar that his 12-8-1 record with a .912 save percentage is cause for great concern these days in New York.

That his backup, Antti Raanta, is 6-1-0 with a .932 save percentage only contributes to that concern, because if Raanta can manage those numbers, what’s Lundqvist’s excuse?

“I feel like I’m tracking the puck well, moving well,” Lundqvist told the Daily News. “It just comes down to some bad decisions at times that cost me.”

Indeed, December has not started well for The King. He’s allowed 10 goals in three starts for a save percentage of .894. In Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Islanders, his decision to poke check a loose puck led to the winning goal by Andrew Ladd.

But while this month has been a struggle, it should be noted that Lundqvist was mostly excellent in November. He finished with a .925 save percentage, including that 40-save victory on Black Friday in Philadelphia.

Which is to say, he has more than earned the benefit of the doubt. Since 2008-09, Lundqvist has not finished a season with a save percentage below .920, and that is a remarkable achievement.

Raanta was solid again last night in Winnipeg, where the Rangers beat the Jets, 2-1. A starting goalie for tonight’s game in Chicago has not yet been announced, but Lundqvist is a good bet.

Top 10 career save percentages among goalies with at least 300 NHL starts

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Jets send talented rookie Connor to AHL

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23:  Goalie Cam Talbot #33 of the Edmonton Oilers pushes Kyle Connor #81 of the Winnipeg Jets  during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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Kyle Connor is on his way to the minors.

On Friday, Winnipeg announced that Connor — the former Michigan Wolverines star taken 17th overall in 2015 — has been assigned to the club’s AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.

Connor, 19, had just one goal and four points through 19 games this year, struggling to adjust to life at the professional level.

He’d been a healthy scratch for each of the Jets’ last six games and, prior to that, missed five games with an upper-body injury after getting nailed into the boards by L.A. forward Kyle Clifford.

The Jets are getting healthy up front, which further explains why Connor is on his way to the Moose. Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault both recently returned from injury.