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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Rangers’ Georgiev impressive in shutout of Flyers

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In the twilight of Henrik Lundqvist‘s career, it appears the New York Rangers can rest easy knowing they have a capable heir-apparent to begin filling his legendary shoes.

Alexandar Georgiev is a name the Rangers will be hoping can continue an upward trajectory, and the 23-year-old showed another flash of his skill on Sunday afternoon on NBC, shutting out the Philadelphia Flyers 3-0 on Star Sunday.

Georgiev turned aside 29 shots on his way to his 13th win of the season and second career shutout.

The Rangers came into the game losers of six straight against the Flyers and were at risk of getting swept by their Metropolitan Division rivals for the first time since the 1984-85 season. That didn’t happen as David Quinn’s young side — the youngest current roster in the NHL at 25.7 years — put together a solid performance, winning their second consecutive game for the first time since Jan. 19 when they won three straight.

Scoring on Sunday came from the Rangers current fountain of youth, with 23-year-old Pavel Buchnevich, 25-year-olds Ryan Strome and Brady Skjei all finding twine for the Blueshirts. A 21-year-old Brett Howden assisted on two goals.

The Flyers entered Sunday fresh of being eliminated from playoff contention 24 hours earlier after dropping a 5-2 decision to the Carolina Hurricanes. The emotion letdown of that was pretty evident from a team dealing with those thoughts and the fatigue playing the second half of a back to back brings.

Philly put in a valiant effort down the stretch. Changes at general manager and head coach will be a big story of the season, as will an eight-game losing streak where they ended up sitting in last place in the NHL. But they showed some promise after clawing back enough points to be relevant until the eve of the final week of the regular season. From Jan. 10 to March 11, they produced the third most points of any team in the NHL, trailing only the juggernaut Tampa Bay Lightning and the St. Louis Blues.

The Flyers will miss the postseason for the fourth time in the last seven years – after making the postseason 16 times in the prior 17 seasons from 1995 to 2012.

Like Georgiev and the Rangers, Carter Hart appears to the be future in Philadelphia. He didn’t have his best outing on Sunday, allowing three goals on 25 shots, but has been a revelation in a town known for its burgeoning goalie graveyard.

Hart came into the game with a .940 save percentage over his past five games.


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 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

PHT Power Rankings: Golden Knights emerging as West’s best

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The only thing crazier than an expansion team reaching the Stanley Cup Final in its first year of existence would be that same team showing that it wasn’t a fluke and doing it again in year two.

The Vegas Golden Knights still have a long way to go before they do that, but they are not only starting to look perfectly capable of going on such a run, they are starting to look like they might be the team to beat in the Western Conference.

Overall, their record is not going to be the best one in the West, and they are probably going to win fewer games than they did a year ago. That should not overshadow the fact this team is looking outstanding at the right time of year, and especially after adding Mark Stone at the trade deadline.

Just look at what they have done over their past 20 games dating back to early February.

  • Their 12-6-2 record during that stretch is the second best in the West, trailing only the St. Louis Blues.
  • Their underlying numbers are as good as any team in the NHL since then, currently sitting third in Corsi Percentage (53.7 percent), third in scoring chance percentage (54.1), and first in high-danger scoring chance percentage (57.6).
  • Their newly formed line of Stone, Max Pacioretty, and Paul Stastny has been dominant and gives them three scoring lines that are capable of beating any team on any night.

It is also not just about what they are doing that makes them such a strong contender. It is also about the rest of the teams around them because, honestly, who else is looking great right now in the West?

The San Jose Sharks should probably be the top contender, but their goaltending is a mess and might just be bad enough to sink a potential Cup team.

The Calgary Flames are the only team in the West that has underlying numbers that compare to Vegas’ over the past 20 games, but their playoff chances seem to be resting on the shoulders of a relatively unproven goalie in David Rittich. There is a risk there.

The Nashville Predators have not looked right for more than a month now.

Pretty much every other team in the playoff mix seems to have some sort of major question mark around them.

They may not have the best record, but with the way they are playing right now it is hard to find a team that looks tougher than the Golden Knights.

They reach the third spot in this week’s edition of the PHT Power Rankings.

Where does everyone else sit this week?

To the rankings!

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — Whether they end up winning the Stanley Cup or not they might be one of the best single season teams the NHL has ever seen, at least based on what they have done during the 2018-19 regular season.

2. Boston Bruins — It almost seems like their dominance this season has slid under the radar. They have been one of the best teams in the league despite being consistently crushed by injuries. Maybe their depth is better than we gave them credit for at the start of the season? Bruce Cassidy should be in the Jack Adams Award discussion.

3. Vegas Golden Knights — They have been dominant since the trade deadline. A lot of their success will simply depend on the health of Marc-Andre Fleury and how he plays in the playoffs.

4. Calgary Flames — Johnny Gaudreau should be a top-five vote-getter in the MVP race and Mark Giordano might be the Norris Trophy winner. Those two are a big reason why the Flames are on their way to winning just their second division title over the past two decades.

5. Winnipeg Jets — Maybe starting to play their best hockey at the right time of year. Getting Dustin Byfuglien back would be a huge lift, as would a goal scoring binge from Patrik Laine.

6. Washington Capitals — They have looked like a championship caliber team since the trade deadline. Losing Michal Kempny will hurt, but the additions of Carl Hagelin and Nick Jensen have really helped their overall defensive play.

[Related: Carl Hagelin is just what the Capitals needed]

7. Pittsburgh Penguins — If Matt Murray keeps playing the way he has been since mid-December this is going to be a very difficult team to beat, especially once Evgeni Malkin returns to the lineup.

8. Carolina Hurricanes — They are 25-9-2 since Dec. 31. The addition of Nino Niederreiter has been significant, but now No. 2 overall pick Andrei Svechnikov is starting to emerge as a big-time goal-scoring threat.

9. St. Louis Blues — Don’t look now but they have a really good chance of snagging home-ice advantage in the first-round of the playoffs. Who saw that happening after the way they started the season?

10. San Jose Sharks — When it comes to their forwards and defense they might be the best team in the Western Conference, especially when Erik Karlsson is healthy. They should be the runaway favorite to win the West given their roster and the way they are capable of playing. But they have lost five in a row and there is no way you can trust their goaltending right now against anybody.

[Related: Sharks’ goaltending is historically bad for Stanley Cup contender]

11. Toronto Maple Leafs — There seems to be a real “sky is falling” mentality around this team  as of late, only further showing how much pressure this team is going to be under to win. Another first-round exit in the playoffs, no matter who they have to play, will not be viewed as acceptable.

12. New York Islanders — They are still in contention for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division but have only been a .500 team for more than a month. That said, if the goaltending holds up they will have a chance to win every night.

13. Nashville Predators — The Predators have not looked right for a while now, and that 5-0 loss to Winnipeg with what was probably their best shot at the Central Division title on the line was concerning. Also concerning: What in the world has happened to Kyle Turris this season?

14. Colorado Avalanche — The Gabriel Landeskog injury seemed like it might be the end of their playoff chances, but Nathan MacKinnon just wanted to remind everyone that he is one of the league’s best players and can carry a team.

15. Montreal Canadiens — Here is a nightmare situation for the Lightning: You dominate the entire regular season and your reward is a potential first-round matchup against a goalie in Carey Price that could easily ruin a season in seven games if he gets hot. Not saying it will happen, not even saying it might happen. But it could happen.

16. Dallas Stars — The more this season goes on, the more ridiculous team CEO Jim Lites’ comments about Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn seem. The Stars only have three forwards with more than 27 points this season — Seguin, Benn, and Alexander Radulov. That trio, along with the play of goalies Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin, are going to carry this team to the playoffs.

17. Minnesota Wild — They looked like they were going to show some surprising fight to make the playoffs after some big trades that no doubt made them worse in the short-term, but they have since gone in the tank with only three wins in their past 11 games. They are still, somehow, only two points out of a Wild Card spot as of Monday.

18. Chicago Blackhawks –– The win on Sunday against Colorado kept their slim playoff hopes alive, but they are a real long shot at this point.

19. Columbus Blue Jackets — If they had lost to the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night their season might already be over. The fact it has reached that point after all of the moves they made at the trade deadline is stunning. If they do not make the playoffs it is going to be fascinating to see what happens to the general manager (who is apparently not happy with how the team is playing) and the coach, and how future teams in a similar situation handle the trade deadline.

20. Arizona Coyotes — The offense has failed them at the worst possible time. They have lost five games in a row, scoring only six goals during that stretch. They have wasted some great goaltending from Darcy Kuemper.

21. Florida Panthers — Honestly, they might only be a goalie away. I just don’t know if the goalie they seem willing to throw the bank at this summer (Sergei Bobrovsky) is the right goalie to get them there at this stage of his career.

22. Philadelphia Flyers — Carter Hart looks legit, and their overall record under Scott Gordon is very good, but I think that record is a mirage. They can not think everything is fine just because they have won some games in the second half of the season. The process behind the results matters, too, and the process is not good enough.

23. Anaheim Ducks — Some discouraging news as it relates to Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves this week. In less discouraging news, John Gibson has been outstanding lately in net.

24. Vancouver Canucks — Excluding the Golden Knights, who have only played two seasons in the NHL, no team in the league has won fewer games over the past four years than the Canucks, and they once again will still not be bad enough to have a great shot at the No. 1 overall pick. It is truly an incredible accomplishment to be that consistently bad but not quite be bad enough to get yourself a position to get the top pick. If any fan base deserves some lottery ball luck this year, it is this one.

25. Edmonton Oilers — There is no other team in the NHL that could have had a situation like the Tobias Rieder-Bob Nicholson one. Sure, there was another team’s CEO that threw a handful of players under the bus this season and blamed them for the team’s struggles, but blaming a fourth-liner? Total insanity.

[Related: Rieder responds to CEO criticism]

26. New York Rangers — In a season like this you have to look for the small victories anywhere you can get them. Beating the Toronto Maple Leafs over the weekend was one. Pavel Buchnevich maybe reaching the 20-goal mark while missing nearly 20 games would be another.

27. Los Angeles Kings — Jonathan Quick‘s .891 save percentage is one of the absolute worst in the NHL this season. Jack Campbell and Calvin Petersen in 31 games between them, playing behind the same team, both have a save percentage of .923 or better. What is most shocking about that is those two are still only 12-17-2 on the season even with their great play in net, a strong indication that the team is just badly flawed all over the roster. Also their big free agent acquisition does not seem to fit with the current coach.

28. Detroit Red Wings — Bringing back Jimmy Howard for another season is not the worst decision in the world, but at some point they are going to have to find a long-term solution in goal. That player does not yet seem to be anywhere in the organization.

29. New Jersey Devils — There was reason to be skeptical of this team being as good as it was a year ago, but the injury situation has absolutely not helped. Just a tough year all around.

30. Ottawa Senators — They still have the worst record in the league, they will still likely finish there, and there is a very real chance their draft pick, which now belongs to the Avalanche, will be the No. 1 overall pick which will be another level of embarrassment on what is already a difficult rebuild for Senators fans. That said, the players that are still there are playing hard and it has produced a couple of impressive wins over the past week, shutting out the Blues and a four-goal win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

31. Buffalo Sabres — On November 27 the Sabres won their 10th game in a row and had the best record in the NHL. Since then they are 14-28-7 and that is the NHL’s worst record during that stretch. That is how you have one of the league’s longest winning streaks of the season and still find yourself 17 points out of a playoff spot in late March. That is deserving of the bottom spot this week.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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