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

3 Comments

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

Follow Vin Cherwoo at http://www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP

More AP NHL: http://www.apnews.com/NHL and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Sports

WATCH LIVE: Rangers visit Flyers on NBC

Getty Images

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

WATCH LIVE: Rangers host Capitals on NBC

Getty Images

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.

Lightning set franchise mark with 10th straight win

1 Comment

Make it 10 in a row.

The Tampa Bay Lightning just refuse to lose and their 10th straight victory on Wednesday, 4-3 in overtime against the New York Rangers, established a new franchise record for a team that seems to be setting new ones every time they touch the ice.

And like their ninth straight win on Monday night, the Lightning were once again made to work for it by a team all-but-mathematically eliminated form the playoffs, this time by a plucky Rangers team that was gutted at the trade deadline.

It took a Victor Hedman overtime winner (and a questionable pick play that went uncalled) for the Lightning to unseat the Rangers on NBSCN.

The Lightning jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, scoring goals seven minutes apart through Tyler Johnson and J.T. Miller in the first period. Like most nights, it seemed like the Lightning were destined for an easy rout.

But Mike Zibanejad injected some life into the Rangers just 56 seconds into the second period, taking a cross-ice feed from Jimmy Vesey and slotting it home on his backhand to pull the game to 2-1.

The Rangers’ high-flying, high-scoring top line was broken up when the team traded Mats Zuccarello to the Dallas Stars last week, but Vesey’s promotion seemed to keep the good times rolling.

After Dan Girardi scored on a one-timer to regain the two-goal lead, Vesey added a goal to his earlier assist. Boo Nieves then capped off New York’s three-goal second period to tie the game 3-3. The Rangers put up 17 shots in the frame after giving up 14 in the first period, and then limited the Lightning to six shots in the third to earn themselves a point.

The Rangers were also without forward Kevin Hayes, who was dealt to Winnipeg, and defenseman Adam McQuaid, who was shipped out to Columbus Blue Jackets. Brendan Lemieux, who made his debut with the Rangers after coming over in the Hayes deal, played 15:24 on the third line and seeing time on the team’s second power-play unit.

The Lightning came into Wednesday’s game having not lost in regulation in their past 13 games. That, of course, turned over to 14 as their remarkable run continues.

Speaking of notable runs, Nikita Kucherov added three more assists to his incredible point tally this season. Kucherov came into the game with an eight-point lead on Chicago’s Patrick Kane in the Art Ross race. He now leads the Blackhawks superstar by 11, with Kane in action later on Wednesday on NBSCN.


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

Predators should not trade Tolvanen, Fiala at deadline

Getty Images
6 Comments

Note: The situation would change considerably if the Predators managed to keep a trade target like Artemi Panarin or Mark Stone. This post revolves around the dangers of paying a big price just to rent someone like them.

***

Looking to the past has its obvious flaws (are any two situations truly alike?), yet the Nashville Predators should consider history before trading Eeli Tolvanen and/or Kevin Fiala. The result would preferably be to … uh, not trade either of them.

One can look to other recent trades as warnings, including the Edmonton Oilers selling low on Jordan Eberle, but the Predators’ longer history probably resonates best with GM David Poile and the fanbase.

Remember the Forsbergs

We probably don’t need to linger on that one, as I already feel the piercing glare of Capitals fans for beating that dead horse.

  • In February 2007, the Predators sent a first and third-round pick (plus Scottie Upshall and Ryan Parent) to the Flyers for Peter Forsberg.

Forsberg actually put up some impressive numbers during his short stay with Nashville (15 points in 17 regular-season games, four in five playoff contests), but the Predators were bounced 4-1 by the Sharks in the first round of that postseason.

Potential fallout of trading Fiala

This was mentioned in a post about not trading Jonathan Huberdeau, but it might be a point that I bleat out until the trade deadline: GMs should institute their own rule about never trading away a talented player whose shooting percentage is below 10 percent during that season. (If it’s the summer, use the most recent season as your barometer.)

If the Predators need a more splash-of-cold-water example than Eberle, try Jeff Skinner. I pre-scolded the Hurricanes about trading Skinner when his value was artificially low in May (24 goals in 82 games on an 8.7 shooting percentage in 2017-18), they did it anyway before the season for a weak return, and now Skinner’s playing so well (34 goals in 56 games, 18.5 shooting percentage) that there are credible talks that he might earn $9 million per season on his next deal.

Fiala is just 22, and as the speedy 11th pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, there’s plenty of pedigree there to expect bigger things. Guess what: Fiala’s shooting percentage is at just 7.3 percent this season, and his career average is a flat 10.

People are frustrated with the Predators second line, and so you hear people losing patience with Fiala. But those lost-patience deals are often the ones where teams lose big in trades. That might have happened with the Hurricanes and Skinner, and it likely happened when the Oilers traded Eberle after a tough playoff run.

Here’s the thing: a smart team might actually leverage this for future gains, and the Predators have shown some history of being wise in exactly that way.

When you look at the best contracts on the Predators’ salary structure at Cap Friendly, you’ll see some situations where context and luck helped Nashville get good deals, like with the trend-setting bargain for Juuse Saros and the flat-out lucky steal with Viktor Arvidsson, who somehow has 26 goals in just 36 games this season.

But then you’ll see examples of the Predators showing foresight and signing players before they blossomed.

Consider the deals the Predators landed for the likes of Forsberg, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm, and you’ll see a team that’s leveraged RFA advantages to lock up guys for term, in many cases before they’ve been identified as difference-makers. (In Ellis’ case, consider that his expiring $2.5M cap hit lasted for five seasons.)

Fiala’s struggles could serve as Nashville’s gain. If they could lock him up for a value contract, Fiala could deliver top-six forward production at an affordable price, which could be crucial when players like Josi need new deals (in Josi’s case, after 2019-20).

When you don’t know what you have

Not that long ago, people were wondering how the Predators stole Eeli Tolvanen with the 30th pick in 2017. It might feel like he’s taking forever to develop, yet it’s easy to forget that he’s just 19 years old.

The Filip Forsberg trade is the big, waving, red flag regarding Tolvanen.

While it’s true that landing Artemi Panarin would be worlds ahead of what the Capitals received in even their more optimistic projections with Erat in 2013, the point is that Washington clearly didn’t know what it had in Forsberg. If the Predators are being truly honest, they’d admit that they do not know what kind of player Tolvanen is yet.

On the lowish end, Tolvanen could be a depth player/specialist on a cheap entry-level contract. If he reached his ceiling, the Predators’ would get a cost-controlled player whose earnings would still be pretty limited. How many contenders wouldn’t love to have a potentially cheap difference-maker through 2020-21?

Sure, it stinks that Tolvanen’s only scored one goal and one assist in seven NHL games, but he also only averaged 12:46 time on ice. It would be better if he was tearing up the AHL right now, yet considering that he could have left for the KHL because of a special out-clause – but instead stayed – the Predators should reward him. And, by rewarding him, there’s a strong chance they’d reward themselves.

More palatable options

The Predators have other chess pieces to move around that trade deadline board.

If they feel like they must move a valuable future asset for Panarin, Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, Wayne Simmonds, or any number of other intriguing targets, then Dante Fabbro might be an easier loss to stomach.

(I’d personally still be reluctant, but sometimes you have to spend money to make money, or some other colloquialism.)

Fabbro’s a touch older than Tolvanen, and the Predators haven’t signed him to a rookie contract yet, at least slightly opening the door for another Jimmy Vesey situation. Fabbro could be valuable if the Predators decide they can’t afford Josi along with P.K. Subban, Ellis, and Ekholm, so it would be best to keep him, but that’s something to consider.

Nashville has its first-rounders intact, and while they shipped their second away at a hefty price for Brian Boyle, there are other picks to work with, such as two fourth-rounders in 2019. The Predators are unlikely to be bad enough to have good first-round picks anytime soon, so paying the price for first-rounders is a smarter risk.

Put it this way: even if they were to get Tolvanen 2.0 and Fiala II with subsequent picks, those prospects would still be behind those players in their development cycles. There’s something to be said for the time Tolvanen and Fiala have put in – stitled, stacco growth rhythms or not – particularly for a contending team.

It’s not always about if, but when

None of this is to say that the Predators can’t ever trade Kevin Fiala or Eeli Tolvanen, just that now might be the worst time to do it. Fiala’s a pending RFA, but a struggling one, so there’s a chance at getting a cheap deal for him. Tolvanen’s already cheap because of his rookie contract, and Nashville doesn’t truly know his ceiling or his realistic floor as an NHL player.

The Predators are in a spot where a calculated gamble is actually quite reasonable. They see a possible second-round rematch with the Winnipeg Jets looming, and on paper, they might need a serious boost to clear that hurdle.

But when you look at Poile’s trades, his best ones come when he’s timed things well (see: Erat/Forsberg, Subban/Shea Weber), yet like any GM, more desperate moves have been pretty dicey. Paying a first-round pick for Ryan Hartman or a second-rounder for Boyle won’t decimate Nashville’s future on an individual level, but those decisions begin to add up.

The risks that come with selling low on Fiala and Tolvanen likely wouldn’t exceed the rewards, especially since those players would likely need to be packaged with other high-value assets like a first-round pick. The Predators are better off leaving those two out of deals, even if it means settling for a medium fish rather than the biggest catch.

On the bright side, if the Predators throw caution to the wind and go big anyway, it should make things more exciting during the trade deadline, not to mention the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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.