Alexandar Georgiev

Can Henrik Lundqvist bounce back for Rangers?

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.

Let’s tackle three questions for the Rangers in 2019-20 …

1. How will the new guys fit in (and how many new guys will fit in)?

Don’t blame head coach David Quinn if he uses phrases like “learning process” a lot next season, as there are a ton of new faces in New York, including players who figure to be top scorers and minute-eaters.

It’s not just about getting the most from Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba. Really, it’s not even about integrating likely rookie impact-makers like Kaapo Kakko and Adam Fox.

The Rangers must also decide if prospects like Vitali Kravtsov will make the team out of training camp, and if they’ll stay long enough to eat up a year of their rookie contracts. Quinn must decide if players like Lias Andersson are ready to take another step forward.

From a forwards and defense level, this is a very different-looking team, something that was cemented by the Kevin Shattenkirk buyout. As far as chemistry experiments go, the Rangers are basically mad science.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | X-factor]

2. Is Henrik Lundqvist washed up?

If you had to choose one Ranger to forget all about last season, it would be Lundqvist.

The Rangers’ defense was abysmal in 2018-19, and Lundqvist buckled under the pressure of trying to carry that sorry bunch, suffering through a season where he had a very un-Hank-like .907 save percentage.

When you look a little deeper at the numbers, you’ll see that his 2018-19 season wasn’t that far from normal, or maybe a “new normal.” Via Hockey Reference, you can see that his even-strength save percentage has been nearly identical for the last three seasons, as it was .919 in both 2018-19 and 2017-18 and .918 in 2016-17.

Before that, prime Lundqvist was regularly beyond .930 at even-strength, and so frequently above .920 overall that you almost set your watch to his elite play.

Considering that he’s 37, maybe the window for his elite play has finally closed, but maybe Lundqvist can squeeze out one or two more great years? Let’s not forget that Lundqvist wasn’t exactly protected in Alain Vigneault’s latter years with the Rangers, as those teams were often horrendous from a possession standpoint.

If Quinn can create more of cocoon for Lundqvist (and Alexandar Georgiev), might the Rangers improve at keeping pucks out of their own net? Even with Panarin leading a big boost in offensive punch, you’d think they’d need a lot more than they got from their goalies last season, Swiss cheese defense and all.

3. Will the playoff picture be an open road or treacherous path?

The Rangers aren’t the only team in their division that should be tough to gauge once prediction time rolls around, making it difficult to tell if the Metro will compare to what was a mighty Atlantic Division last season.

The Devils are just about as wildly different as the Rangers, and the Flyers made bold moves in their own right.

It’s easiest to imagine the Rangers falling in the wild-card range, so a lot may hinge on how other teams perform, both in the Metro and Atlantic Divisions. If the Panthers and Sabres take big strides — as they’re paying to do — then the Atlantic teams could gobble up as many as five playoff spots, forcing the Rangers to break into the top three of the Metro. That might be asking too much, so the Rangers have to hope for a little bit of a buffer when it comes to the playoff bubble.

(You know, unless they end up being far better or far worse than expected.)

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Rangers getting a good look at the future, despite playoff disappointment

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Silver linings for teams far off the playoff line are few and far between at this time of the year.

But if there is one that can be taken for any team looking at re-tooling or rebuilding for next season, it’s the ability to take a look at the future crop against NHL adversaries.

The New York Rangers are one of these teams. They declared themselves open for business prior to the trade deadline and dealt away some big names, including Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh, for some younger talent.

They’re also facing a challenge with aging goaltender Henrik Lundqvist who, as great as he is, won’t win the battle with Father Time.

Needing to fill holes at several positions, the Rangers have been able to take a good look at a couple of promising prospects, including what may well be their future between the pipes.

New York has played rookie Alexandar Georgiev six times and owns a 3-2-0 record since he played his first NHL game on Feb. 22. Despite picking up the loss, Georgiev allowed just two goals on 40 shots for a .950 save percentage.

He’d give up four in his next start the following night, but since then has amassed three straight wins, including a 37-save performance on Wednesday against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. He’ll be called upon again on Saturday, another test and another chance for evaluation.

The inital analysis is promising. Georgiev is sitting on a very respectable .929 save percentage in his brief time in the NHL and he’s already turning heads around the league.

NHL.com’s Kevin Woodley’s wrote that Georgiev is taking after the likes of Andrei Vasilevskiy, Semyon Varlamov and Sergei Bobrovsky — some pretty good company.

Blueshirt Banter’s Tom Urtz Jr. took a really deep dive in Georgiev, concluding by calling him a “pleasant surprise.”

There’s a lot to like about him, his potential is visible, and the circumstances are set up in his favor for him to be able to prove himself more in an extended setting next season,” Urtz Jr. wrote.

Shifting to the men in the rearguard, Neal Pionk is making the most the big minutes he’s been getting over the past 17 games, and he’s starting to produce.

Pionk is on a three-game point streak with five assists during that span.

Also 22 and also undrafted, Pionk, like Georgiev, is showing real promise on defense.

“He competes hard and he’s got a good skill set,” Vigneault told NYRangers.com on Friday. “He can make that good pass and there’s no doubt that in his college and prior to that, he was considered an offensive defenseman. He’d join the rush and was good on the power play, so there is some upside there with him. We need to continue to work at his game and continue to improve it.”

The Rangers appear to have some budding young talent and an array of players to build around with the likes Pavel Buchnevich, Vladislav Namestnikov and Jimmy Vesey — assuming they sign the latter two who are set to become RFAs at the end of this season.

And perhaps most importantly, the Rangers, who have long held the distinction as a team where old players go to get older, seem to finally be favoring youth over past-their-prime talent.

That’s good news for Rangers fans.


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

Zibanejad forces OT, notches game winner as Rangers top Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins had this one right where they wanted it.

A 2-0 lead heading into the third period against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, 20 minutes away from taking sole possession of first place in the volatile Metropolitan Division.

But the Rangers, who could only hope to play the role of spoiler on during Wednesday Night Rivalry on NBCSN, did exactly that after two third-period comebacks in a 4-3 overtime win.

For the Penguins, the point was enough to move them into a tie with the Washington Capitals for first place, with Alex Ovechkin and Co. holding a game in-hand over their Metro rivals. But the Penguins won’t be looking at the silver linings after giving up 2-0 and 3-2 leads respectively in the final frame.

Pittsburgh was even gifted a glorious opportunity to break a 3-3 with 10 seconds left.

The Rangers started Alexandar Georgiev in goal, and the veteran of five NHL games nudged the net off its moorings with Pittsburgh pressing and time running down in the third. Given that it was in the final two minutes of the game, the Penguins were awarded a penalty shot.

Step up Evgeni Malkin, who was looking for No. 40 for the third time in his career. Georgiev, with an opportunity to make amends for his transgression, stuck with Malkin as he dangled in close, ultimately turning aside the attempt to force overtime.

Bryan Rust, who missed the past two games with a concussion, returned in style to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead after a scoreless first period. Riley Sheahan doubled the lead under a minute later.

Casey DeSmith wasn’t tested much during the first two periods but turned aside all 17 shots he faced through 40 minutes.

The Rangers looked like a different team in the third period. Sustained pressure forced DeSmith to make some timely saves, but the walls eventually gave way.

Chris Kreider notched his 13th followed by Jesper Fast‘s 11th to tie the game with just over five minutes to go.

Former Ranger Carl Hagelin scored just over a minute later to restore the lead for the Penguins, but the Rangers got a late power play opportunity and cashed in, with Kreider making a slick cross-ice feed to Mika Zibanejad.

And it would be Zibanejad who would have the final say in the contest, scoring at the 2:53 mark in overtime to cap off quite the comeback for the Rangers.


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