Filip Chytil

Rangers’ Lundqvist: Struggles in second half ‘more challenging’

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Henrik Lundqvist liked how he started the season. The 37-year-old New York Rangers goalie wasn’t so pleased with how he played toward the end.

He was 15-12-7 with a 3.19 goals-against average during the first half while earning his fifth All-Star appearance. After that, however, he had just three wins in 17 starts to finish with fewer than 24 wins for the first time in his career.

”It was more challenging than I expected it to be and that’s something I have to learn from obviously,” Lundqvist said Sunday at the team’s practice facility in Greenburgh, New York. ”There were so many games I felt good, but where we are right now, good is not going to be enough. You need to play great to win.”

Lundqvist ended the season with 449 career wins, losing his last six tries at No. 450. His 52 starts were his third-fewest – including the shortened 2012-13 season – and his 3.07 GAA and .907 save-percentage were also the worst of his career.

”I think of how good he was in the beginning of the year and he was an All-Star,” general manager Jeff Gorton said. ”It didn’t go well for our team from the trade deadline on and he’s no different than any player. … The guy is still a great goalie.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

There were a lot of ups and downs for the Rangers in the first full season of a makeover that began at the previous year’s trade deadline. They finished 32-36-14 in the first season under coach David Quinn, getting just five wins in their last 21 games (5-10-6) after stars Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes were dealt at this year’s deadline.

New York finished seventh in the eight-team Metropolitan Division, 20 points out of the last wild card in the Eastern Conference.

”We all understood the situation we’re in, but that doesn’t mean we don’t think we couldn’t have had a better season,” Quinn said. ”For the most part, these guys were very coachable, tried to do everything we asked them to do.”

There were some bright spots as Mika Zibanejad had career highs of 30 goals and 44 assists, Chris Kreider (28 goals, 24 assists) tied his career high in goals, and Pavel Buchnevich (21 goals, 17 assists) had a breakout season. Also, Ryan Strome finished with 18 goals and 15 assists in 63 games since being acquired from Edmonton.

”We were consistently hard-working,” Kreider said. ”Everyone took great strides as individuals. Now it’s just building on that and not looking back.”

Gorton was also pleased overall with what he saw from his rebuilding team.

”You saw a team that competed really hard every night,” he said. ”I think that’ll bode well as we go forward.”

Some other things to know as the Rangers head into the offseason:

BETWEEN THE PIPES

While Lundqvist struggled, young backup Alexandar Georgiev took advantage of a boost in playing time. The Bulgarian-born 23-year-old was 14-13-4 with a 2.91 GAA and two shutouts in 32 games. He was 8-4-4 with a 2.58 GAA over 16 starts after the All-Star break and could push Lundqvist for more playing time next season.

Also, Russian goalie Igor Shestyorkin, selected by the Rangers in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft, could join the franchise this summer after finishing his last season with the KHL’s SKA Saint Petersburg. He has gone 71-12-10 with a 1.49 GAA the last three seasons with Saint Petersburg.

THE YOUNGSTERS

Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil, the team’s first-round selections in the 2017 draft showed some flashes as they adjust to the NHL.

Chytil, 19, finished with 11 goals and 12 assists in his first full season while moving from center to left wing, though he had just a goal and three assists in his last 23 games. The 20-year-old Andersson had two goals and four assists in 42 games.

FREE-AGENT FRENZY?

The Rangers could choose to hasten their rebuild with some moves in free agency, with Columbus’ Artemi Panarin and San Jose’s Erik Karlsson possible targets.

New York also has decisions to make with some of their own players, with Buchnevich leading the list of restricted free agents. Brendan Lemieux showed flashes after coming over from Winnipeg in the Hayes deal, and Vinni Lettieri, and defensemen Neal Pionk and Tony DeAngelo are also on the list. Also, Kreider, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jimmy Vesey and Jesper Fast will be unrestricted free agents after next season.

WATCH THE DRAFT BOARD

The Rangers have stockpiled draft picks this year with 10 selections, including three first-rounders for the second straight year. Barring any trades, this will make it three straight years with multiple picks in the first round after four straight years without any.

Unless they win the draft lottery, the Rangers aren’t going to get Jack Hughes. However, other strong centers that could be available include Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach

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WATCH LIVE: Rangers visit Flyers on NBC

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday afternoon’s matchup between the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Pride will be at stake between the Rangers and Flyers when they meet in the first game on Star Sunday on NBC.

The Flyers were officially eliminated from the playoffs after a tough 5-2 loss on Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Rangers, meanwhile, have been out of contention for a while, missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in 15 years.

“I think the poor start is the reason that we’re in this position,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said after Saturday’s game. “Every year it feels like it’s the same story. We need to figure it out…we know we can make the playoffs and be a dangerous team, but we can believe whatever we want. We just have to go out there and make it happen.”

For New York, stopping the Flyers’ six-game winning streak against them — including their three previous meetings this season — will be top of the order. The Flyers haven’t swept the season series since the 1984-85 season.

Philly put up a valiant effort this season after firing the general manager and head coach they began the season with. The Rangers began the season on a rebuilding foot, having brought in David Quinn while selling off several key pieces at the trade deadline.

Despite where both teams find themselves, there won’t be lacking for motivation.

“You want to win hockey games, especially when you’re playing a division rival,” Quinn said.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12 P.M. ET – NBC]

WHAT: New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers
WHERE: Wells Fargo Center
WHEN: Sunday, March 31, 12 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Rangers-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS

Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Vladislav NamestnikovFilip ChytilVinni Lettieri
Jimmy VeseyLias AnderssonRyan Strome
Brendan LemieuxBrett HowdenBoo Nieves

Brady SkjeiKevin Shattenkirk
Marc StaalTony DeAngelo
Brendan SmithNeal Pionk

Starting goalie: Alexandar Georgiev

FLYERS

James van RiemsdykNolan Patrick — Claude Giroux
Oskar LindblomSean CouturierJakub Voracek
Ryan HartmanScott LaughtonTravis Konecny
Michael RafflCorban KnightPhil Varone

Ivan ProvorovTravis Sanheim
Shayne GostisbeherePhilippe Myers
Robert HaggRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

Kenny Albert (play-by-play), Ed Olczyk (analyst) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa. Liam McHugh will anchor studio coverage alongside Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Eberle fights Konecny; Cole’s questionable hit

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Three Stars

1. Blake Wheeler

The Blue Jackets put forth a nice effort on Sunday, but they couldn’t stop Blake Wheeler. He scored four goals (a hat trick plus an empty-netter), including the game-winner as Winnipeg greatly impeded Columbus’ push toward a playoff spot.

Wheeler extended his point streak to six games (five goals, seven assists for 12 points), and he’s been especially hot lately, as he combined Sunday’s four goals with three points (one goal, two assists) from Friday.

The 32-year-old now has 80 points in 65 games this season, the second-best total of his career. He has a strong chance of meeting or passing his career-high of 91 points in 81 games from 2017-18.

2. Mark Scheifele

Wheeler was the only player to manage four points on Sunday, while Scheifele stood ahead of everyone beyond his winger with three (everyone else scored two or fewer).

Scheifele generated his three points via assists, finishing that win against Columbus with a +4 rating. The 25-year-old center now has 75 points in 65 games during the 2018-19 campaign, seven behind his career-high of 82 back in 2016-17.

3. Claude Giroux

Among the many changes over the years in Philly, there seems to be one constant when things are going well: Claude Giroux turning it up a notch.

Sure, they’ve received great goaltending from Carter Hart, and are now getting sneaky-good work from Brian Elliott after the veteran healed up from injuries, but Giroux still drives the bus.

Giroux generated two assists as the Flyers beat the Islanders on Sunday, pushing his point streak to five consecutive games (two goals, seven assists). Remarkably, Giroux’s generated multiple points in four of those five games.

Overall, the 31-year-old forward has 70 points in 66 games.

Unlikely fight

You wouldn’t expect to see a fight between Jordan Eberle and Travis Konecny, but that’s what happened on Sunday, and it was a pretty spirited affair:

Suspension coming for Ian Cole?

The Colorado Avalanche defenseman was ejected for this ugly knee-to-knee on Devin Shore:

Highlights

Filip Chytil‘s no-look assist is probably the best moment from these Caps-Rangers highlights, but you’d likely also be entertained by the way things finished (in Alex Ovechkin‘s favor):

Jakob Silfverberg has an argument for Three Stars inclusion with a goal and an assist, especially if you factor in cool points. What a great way to score his 100th goal:

Factoids

Scores

WSH 3 – NYR 2 (SO)
PHI 4 – NYI 1
VGK 3 – VAN 0
ANA 2 – COL 1
OTT 3 – FLA 2
WPG 5 – CBJ 2
NSH 3 – MIN 2 (SO)
SJS 5 – CHI 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Capitals outlast Rangers in shootout, regain Metropolitan lead

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It took a no-goal call on the ice and then a correction by the league for Alex Ovechkin to be awarded the shootout winner in a 3-2 victory against the New York Rangers on NBC on Sunday.

Ovechkin came down the ice for his attempt, deked Alexandar Georgiev to the right and then lost the puck after Georgiev hurled his stick at Ovechkin’s. The call was no goal. It was still no goal after a referee huddle, but then the call came in from the NHL and the review clearly showed Georgiev’s infraction.

Ovechkin’s shot, after getting stopped six times in regulation and overtime, counted and the Washington Capitals moved into first place in the Metropolitan Division for the first time since the middle of January with their fourth straight win (and fourth straight this season over the Rangers).

If not for Georgiev, the game never would have been in the shootout to begin with. He was the prime reason why the Rangers took a point off the Capitals. His saves on Ovechkin throughout the game were particularly impressive. He slid across the ice twice on Washington power plays to rob The Great 8, and then he stopped Ovechkin cold in overtime with this beauty:

For a Rangers team in rebuild mode, and with Henrik Lundqvist in the twilight of his career, it has be comforting to the Rangers to see The King’s heir-apparent doing this well against some of the top shooters in the game.

The Rangers have been plucky as of late, even with the losses of Kevin Hayes, Mats Zuccarello and Adam McQuaid. They took a point of the Tampa Bay Lightning last week after playing them into overtime and did well once again on Sunday to take the Metropolitan-leading Capitals into deep waters.

Ryan Strome gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead 45 seconds into the game but it was quickly leveled by Carl Hagelin just 1:18 later as the swift forward scored his first for the Caps since being acquired last week.

The Capitals would take a 2-1 just after the midway point of the period, a score that would remain that way until 14:20 of the second frame, when Pavel Buchnevich found the back of the net behind Braden Holtby to tie the game.

Georgiev was front and center for the rest of the way, ultimately making 37 saves in 65 minutes as the Rangers lost their fourth straight.

Holtby’s save on Filip Chytil, however, would be the one needed to give Washington a chance and then Ovechkin ultimately scored to secure both points.

The Capitals will hold first place at least until the conclusion of the New York Islanders matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers, which is in progress.

For now, Washington can enjoy the view from the summit.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Rangers host Capitals on NBC

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Washington sits in a tie for first in the Metro with the New York Islanders (Isles have one game in hand) as they look to be headed back to the postseason for the fifth straight time and what would be an 11th appearance in the last 12 seasons. The Capitals have won five of their last six games and this is the second game of a thre-game road trip after beating the Islanders, 3-1, on Friday (Washington plays at Philadelphia on Wednesday on NBCSN at 7:30 p.m. ET).

Alex Ovechkin leads the team in points (75) and paces the entire league with 45 goals (Patrick Kane – second with 40) as he pursues another Rocket Richard trophy – aiming to break a tie with Bobby Hull (seven) and become the first player in NHL history to finish atop the goal-scoring race eight times. With Ovechkin’s goal on Friday, he became the first player in NHL history to score 45-plus goals in 10 seasons:

The Rangers are coming off a 4-2 loss to Montreal on Friday – their third straight loss as they are headed towards missing the postseason for the second consecutive year – after a stretch that saw them make the playoffs 11 times in a 12-season span from 2006-2017.

Henrik Lundqvist turned 37 years old on Saturday. The longtime starting goalie is in a bit of slump having lost seven of his last eight starts (1-5-2, 3.14 GAA). His record sits at 17-17-9, and he’s currently sporting a 3.04 goals against average and .907 save percentage, both of which would be career-worsts if the season ended today.  King Henrik is just three wins away from his 14th straight 20-win season (in as many years in the NHL). If he can reach that mark, he’ll become the fourth goalie in NHL history to record at least 14 seasons with 20 wins, along with Patrick Roy (17), Martin Brodeur (16) and Ed Belfour (15).

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12 P.M. ET – NBC]

What: Washington Capitals at New York Rangers
Where: Madison Square Garden
When: Sunday, March 3, 12 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
Live stream: You can watch the Capitals-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny KuznetsovTom Wilson
Jakub VranaNicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars EllerBrett Connolly
Andre BurakovskyNic DowdTravis Boyd

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikNick Jensen

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

RANGERS
Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadJimmy Vesey
Vladislav NamestnikovRyan StromeJesper Fast
Brendan LemieuxLias AnderssonPavel Buchnevich
Brendan SmithBrett HowdenFilip Chytil

Brady SkjeiKevin Shattenkirk
Marc StaalTony DeAngelo
Libor Hajek – Neal Pionk

Starting goalie: Alexandar Georgiev

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), Eddie Olczyk (analyst), and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from New York. Liam McHugh, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones will handle studio coverage.