Henrik Lundqvist is not the problem with the Rangers. But unlike earlier this season, he has not been the solution lately, either.
There is no better illustration of that than the team’s two visits to the Florida Panthers.
On Nov. 21, Florida had the better of the play and busied Lundqvist with 43 shots on goal, but the Rangers won, 5-4, in overtime. On Saturday, the Rangers had the better of the play and outshot Florida 40-20, but the Rangers lost, 3-0.
It was a rare night on which Lundqvist, 33, was the younger goaltender and a night on which the Panthers’ Roberto Luongo, 36, was the sprier of the two.
So now what? Lundqvist’s job is in no imminent danger. In fact, with the team playing only five games in the first 15 days of January, coach Alain Vigneault said he plans to lean on King Henrik until further notice.
“He’s going to play,” the coach said before Saturday’s loss. “The schedule is permitting us to go with him. We need the Henrik Lundqvist that we saw at the beginning of the year.
“He’s getting some practice time. He’s spending some good quality time with [goalie coach] Ben [Allaire]. We need him to be on top of his game.”
After Saturday’s game, Lundqvist gave Luongo his props and lamented what went wrong for him, including an unlucky bounce on the Panthers’ second goal and a mis-hit shot that threw off his timing on the third.
Informed that Vigneault had promised him plenty of action in the coming couple of weeks, he said, “Me, personally, I’m just going to take it day by day here and work really hard in practice and prepare for each game.”
Lundqvist is only one of several stars from whom Vigneault is trying to coax better play. Most recently, he acknowledged he needs more from Derek Stepan.
So it goes for a team that even during its scorching start this season clearly had flaws, many of which were obscured by Lundqvist’s heroics in net.
All that is old news now. The Rangers (21-14-4) have lost their mojo, and need to get it back soon to avoid playoff race agita come April. They return home to face the Dallas Stars (28-8-4) on Tuesday night.
“Certainly now we’re looking forward to a couple of days of rest,” captain Ryan McDonagh said in the visitors’ dressing room Saturday. “Then we have to find a way to win hockey games again.”