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

The Buzzer: Gibson – Rinne trumps Kesler – Johansen

Getty
2 Comments

Three Stars

1. Sebastian Aho

Monday was a big night for Sebastian Aho, Forward Version.

He was one of only two players to generate two points – so, yeah, Monday was pretty big for goalies – and his overtime goal was so smooth (and so funny at Brent Seabrook‘s expense) that it got its own post.

Aho generated the lone assist on Teuvo Teravainen‘s power-play goal, which helped Carolina get back into the game after falling behind 2-0 to Cam Ward and the Chicago Blackhawks.

By the way, Ward doesn’t make it to the three stars, but he managed 37 saves in his return to Carolina. Worth a mention, especially for a goalie who feels very far removed from his glory days with the Hurricanes franchise.

2. John Gibson

Heading into Monday’s contest in Anaheim, the buzz surrounded Ryan Kesler and Ryan Johansen. Would the two brawl in the parking lot, like an “Attitude Era” episode of Monday Night Raw? Perhaps they would settle their dispute by gorging on goals?

Nope.

Instead, Gibson and Pekka Rinne lived up to their 2018-19 reputations as two of the best goalies (if not the two best, full-stop) in the NHL. The contest went into the shootout 1-1, but Gibson was the netminder who finished with the W, with Gibson making 34 saves (including 10 in overtime) while Rinne stopped 29 shots.

As talented as both are and as productive as they’ve been really since last season, it’s tough to imagine them avoiding the natural pull of regression, at least to some extent. With that in mind, it was nice to see those two goalies carry their outstanding work into that game, and then deliver with a true goalie duel.

The Predators lost their first road game via the shootout, yet they kept their away point streak alive. The Ducks needed this much more, even if this sticks to the script of Gibson being an all-world, MVP-caliber goalie.

3. Cam Atkinson

You can thank Aho, Rinne, and Gibson for the headline not being something Atkinson Diet-related.

(Stashes that already-extremely-dusty joke for later.)

Atkinson joined Aho as one of two players to generate two points on a low-scoring Monday. While Atkinson didn’t generate the GWG like Aho did, he bares the distinction of being involved in all of Columbus’ goals in a tight win against the Stars. This was a nasty affair at times, as you can see from this fight between Jamie Benn and Josh Anderson.

As strong a night as Atkinson enjoyed, the Blue Jackets might most heartened by the possibility that Sergei Bobrovsky could be back in the zone.

Highlights

Rinne didn’t get the win, but he probably made the most ludicrous save, although there were enough great ones in this that I could be wrong.

Anton Khudobin couldn’t grab a win or even a point for Dallas in that tense, tight game against Columbus, but he did make this save.

Speaking of nice saves in losing efforts, here’s the best from Cam Ward:

Again, Aho’s OTGWG was quite something, so check it out here.

Factoids

Maybe the Hurricanes’ barrage of shots wasn’t a product of Bill Peters? Or maybe they haven’t forgotten his lessons?

Henrik Lundqvist continues to make history, and the Rangers are quietly heating up. If you want to tank, Lundqvist isn’t exactly your guy.

Scores

NYR 2 – VAN 1
CAR 3 – CHI 2 (OT)
CBJ 2 – DAL 1
ANA 2 – NSH 1 (SO)

MORE: Your 2018-19 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’ off-season plan can quickly shift from ‘the process’ to winning

Getty Images
4 Comments

Call it a “rebuild,” a “re-tooling” or a “reshaping,” but what the New York Rangers are going through as they prepare for the future won’t last very long. The pain will be temporary.

When general manager Jeff Gorton sent that February letter to season-ticket holders about turning the page on this season and getting assets for veterans while incorporating youngsters, it was a welcomed sign. The brass knew the roster they had likely wouldn’t find success in the postseason, if they even found a way in, so might as well cash-in and turn the page.

But benefiting the Rangers is that they’re an organization that will spend, and with Henrik Lundqvist still solid in goal and with three more years left on his contract, now’s not the time to tear it completely down. The goaltender himself is adamant he wants a return to contender status next season.

“Next year has to be about winning and nothing else,” Lundqvist told Larry Brooks of the New York Post this week. “I understand that the end now has been about the young guys getting used to the league and getting confidence, but next year is not about the process. It’s about winning games.”

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Gorton has a busy summer ahead of him. The Rangers have seven picks in the first three rounds of the June entry draft and $24 million in cap space, per Cap Friendly, to play with this summer — and that’s before the expected rise of the ceiling, which could go up between $3-5 million. Some of that money will go towards new contracts for the likes of restricted free agents Ryan Spooner, Kevin Hayes, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jimmy Vesey and Brady Skjei. 

The leftover cap room? Well, those Ilya Kovalchuk rumors will begin to heat up once his season ends in the KHL and who knows, maybe Rick Nash and Michael Grabner make a return to New York? Plus some of those seven early round picks and maybe one or two of their RFAs could be dangled as trade bait in exchange for impact players for next season. Add in the experience that Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil, John Gilmour, Rob O’Gara and Neal Pionk have been getting these last few weeks and the wait for a playoff return may not be very long.

“When you see the progress of the group, especially the young players,” said Lundqvist last month, “that gives you hope for what’s ahead of us.”

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Lundqvist, rebuilding Rangers brace for rough road ahead

Getty Images
5 Comments

WASHINGTON — Henrik Lundqvist got an early glimpse into the New York Rangers’ rebuilding future.

It’s not pretty.

Lundqvist roiled with frustration after a rookie defensemen left an opponent wide open for a tying goal that led to New York’s 44th loss of a lost season. As Zen-like as he was earlier in the day about the new organizational direction toward youth and away from trying to win now, the face of the franchise for more than a decade was bothered by a mistake caused by inexperience that’s sure to be repeated over the coming years.

”So frustrating,” Lundqvist said.

When general manager Jeff Gorton committed the Rangers to a roster refresh that laid waste to 2018 playoff hopes and set the stage for pain that could last longer than Lundqvist’s prime, the star goaltender battled his own internal conflict. The 36-year-old from Sweden had never played in an NHL game with no chance of making the playoffs.

”As a competitor, you want to win, and I never experienced that before where you’re like, ‘We can’t go for this,”’ Lundqvist said Wednesday, hours after the Rangers were eliminated from contention but several weeks since it became clear they wouldn’t make the postseason. ”It was definitely a new experience. But we’re all on board in this.”

Lundqvist and his veteran Rangers teammates have two choices: get on board or be tossed overboard. When it became apparent this team didn’t have the stuff to compete for the Stanley Cup, Gorton traded captain Ryan McDonagh and forwards Rick Nash, J.T. Miller and Michael Grabner before the deadline and set a course for the future.

With three years left on Lundqvist’s contract at $8.5 million per season, how far away that future is remains painfully unclear. After 11 playoff appearances and a trip to the final with Lundqvist as the backbone, the Rangers may not get within reach of the Cup in his prime or even his career – but even current players see the need for change.

”I think it’s good for this organization to get some fresh air and some new young players and go from there,” 30-year-old winger Mats Zuccarello said. ”But it’s going to be a process.”

The process began last summer with the trade of veteran center Derek Stepan to Arizona for the seventh overall pick that turned into Lias Andersson and the selection of Filip Chytil later in the first round. Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Brady Skjei are young building blocks already in place, and there’s hope that free agent addition Kevin Shattenkirk and trade acquisition Vladislav Namestnikov become part of the long-term solution.

When the Rangers played at Washington on Wednesday night in their first game with no hope of playoffs since 2004, they dressed 15 players age 26 and younger. New York’s future is its present, which can mean blunders like Neal Pionk‘s missed assignment in front, along with the excitement and potential of prospects like the 22-year-old defenseman, Andersson and Chytil.

”When you see the progress of the group, especially the young players, that gives you hope for what’s ahead of us,” Lundqvist said.

With a full no-movement clause and the equity he has built up with the Rangers, Lundqvist can choose his future. Others, like Zuccarello and coach Alain Vigneault, aren’t so fortunate.

In February, when he announced plans to go young, Gorton didn’t want to answer a question about whether Vigneault would be back next season other than to praise his coaching and say, ”We’re all responsible in some way here for what we’re seeing.” This spring will be the first time in a decade Vigneault hasn’t coached in the playoffs, a tough turn for the 56-year-old who almost certainly will be behind an NHL bench somewhere next season.

”A tough decision was made for the long-term future of this organization and you have to respect it and you have to do your jobs,” Vigneault said Wednesday. ”That’s what I’m trying to do, that’s what my staff is trying to do and that’s what the players are trying to do.”

Try as they might to focus on the final few games of the season, the Rangers feel the threat of drastic change that hangs over them. Lundqvist said ”now is not the time” to talk about the bumpy road ahead.

Describing one of the most successful runs in franchise history, Zuccarello used words like lucky, fortunate and even spoiled. In a sport with a salary cap, it’s difficult to remain among the top teams for even this long, and now everyone is bracing for the uncertainty of what’s next.

”This is a new situation for most of the guys that have been here for a while, but you have to buy in, you know?” Zuccarello said. ”It is what it is. It’s nothing you can do about it. … Hopefully I have some good years – five, six good years – left and can be part of the rebuild and come to the good times again.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

The Buzzer: Halak stops 50 in shutout

Getty Images
8 Comments

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Players of the Night:

Jaroslav Halak, New York Islanders: The New York Rangers kept coming. And coming. And coming. The Blueshirts put up 50 shots on Halak, but the veteran netminder shut the door on each and every one of them in a heroic shutout effort.

Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson, Washington Capitals: Ovie had a four-point game, scoring his league-leading 34th goal (his 592nd in his career) and helping out on three others, including both of Wilson’s goals. Wilson also added an assist for a three-point night. Add in Nicklas Backstrom‘s goal and assist and the Capitals top line had a nine-point night.

Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders: Barzal was instrumental in setting up all three Islanders goals. Furthermore, the rookie put himself in some elite company with his 60th, 61st and 62nd point of the season.

Marian Gaborik, Ottawa Senators and Dion Phaneuf, Los Angeles Kings: Both players made their debuts for their new teams after they were traded for each (and a couple other pieces) on Tuesday. Both ended up scoring a goal for their respective new teams.

Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks: Stopped 43 of 44 to help the Sharks get back to winning ways.

Highlights of the Night: 

Kucherov makes them all stand still:

Poor Henrik Lundqvist:

Matt Murray sprawlin’:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Penguins 3, Kings 1

Islanders 3, Rangers 0

Devils 5, Hurricanes 2

Senators 3, Sabres 2 (OT)

Lightning 4, Red Wings 1

Capitals 5, Wild 2

Flames 4, Predators 3

Ducks 3, Blackhawks 2

Coyotes 5, Canadiens 2

Golden Knights 4, Oilers 1

Sharks 4, Canucks 1


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