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Lundqvist Returns to Action in Top Form

(AP / Brandon Wade)

(AP / Brandon Wade)

Antti Raanta starting four games in a row for the New York Rangers had many fans worried about the state of the crease and the future of Henrik Lundqvist. It is not out of the ordinary for a backup goaltender to start a couple games in a row. But, Rangers’ head coach Alain Vigneault and assistant and goaltending coach, Benoit Allaire, decided to sit The King four games in a row. Did this create a goalie controversy? Hardly. All professional athletes go through slumps, some lasting longer than others. There is absolutely nothing wrong with allowing a player, especially a netminder, to sit out for a few games to regroup and refocus.

Regrouping and refocusing was exactly what Lundqvist did while Raanta took over for four games. Raanta was excellent during that stretch, keeping The King’s throne nice and warm for his return to action. And what did Lundqvist do upon his return? Well, he had a pretty unwelcoming return from Dallas Stars’ forward Cody Eakin. While playing the puck behind the net midway through the first period Eakin collided with Lundqvist, who was blindsided, sending his brain bucket flying and The King spinning to the ice. Lundqvist was forced to leave the game as per concussion protocol. Though Henrik has expressed his displeasure with the new protocol which requires mandatory exiting, Rangerstown is surely relieved that he was alright, returning for the second period. But despite being shaken up, Lundqvist came back perfect on all 27 shots faced by the Rangers, and Raanta didn’t even have to face a shot on goal during his brief time in relief. Unfortunately, due to a technicality, the team is credited with a shutout, but not personally for Lundqvist.

Lundqvist carried this momentum into Saturday night’s matchup in Nashville against the Predators. He allowed just one goal on 32 shots faced, including a 14-shot third period by the Preds. The King turned away both shots faced in the shootout. Jimmy Vesey tallied an attempt in his first shootout attempt in his career against the team he was originally drafted by. Zuccarello’s patience in the shootout worked again, beating Preds’ goaltender Juuse Saros to end the shootout before the Preds’ third attempt.

So what do we take away from this? There was never a goalie controversy. Did Henrik need some time off? Absolutely. Was Raanta about to steal the King’s throne? Hardly. It’s a long season. If Raanta started ten games in row with a healthy Lundqvist riding the pine, I might start worrying. Sometimes, a coach just has to go with the hot goalie. There’s nothing wrong with this. The Rangers are getting superb performances from their goaltenders. Though there is certainly a lot of hockey left to play, I’m still going to go ahead and predict Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta to win the William Jennings Trophy, awarded to the best goaltending tandem throughout the season.

Now I must address the white elephant in the room. There seemed to have been a lack of response from fellow teammates to Eakin taking a run at The King. Could there have been a more immediate response? Perhaps – but Brady Skjei was right there wearing a full face mask. According to the rulebook, if he instigated a fight with Eakin, Skjei would have faced an additional unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty, and possible ejection from the game. So while Skjei wishes in retrospect he would have done something, the Rangers would have been short a key defenseman in a 0-0 game. Not to mention, the Rangers were on a powerplay. After the whistle, Rick Nash and JT Miller skated over to Eakin to give him the business but the referees sent Eakin off the ice before anything could unfold. Later on in the game, Nick Holden dropped the gloves on Stars’ defenseman Stephen Johns who laid a hit on Oscar Lindberg, but Johns skated away from the confrontation.

Would I have liked to see more of a response from the Rangers as well? Yes, but the timing and circumstances were not ripe for confrontation. I’ve said that fighting serves its purpose in the NHL. But there is a time and place for everything. I wouldn’t have been upset if a Rangers skater immediately went after Eakin. The reasoning goes without saying – Eakin ran the Rangers’ star goaltender, arguably the most important member of the team. On the other hand, I’m not upset that there was a delayed response to incident. Fact of the matter is, the Rangers failed to convert on five more minutes being on the man-advantage. That should anger fans more. Thankfully, Rick Nash scored the game-winning short-handed goal, and Mats Zuccarello snapped a 14-game goalless streak but securing the win with an empty-netter. Nevertheless, Eakin was handed a four-game suspension, and rightfully so.

To take the lessons from the non-existent goalie controversy, we must apply the same patient state of mind to those thinking calling up Tanner Glass is necessary. It’s important not to avoid impulsive reactions here. The Rangers are lauded for point production, a major reason for their success this season. They currently sit third in the league in goals per game with 3.3. Glass, who was waived earlier this season, went unclaimed and has been playing with the Hartford Wolf Pack ever since. In 27 games in Hartford, he has collected a measly seven points. Adding him to the lineup would force a productive player out of the lineup, something the Rangers cannot afford as Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich are still on the sidelines with injuries. The nature of the NHL is very different from what it was ten or fifteen years ago. The role of the enforcer has severely diminished. In the last decade, Stanley Cup-winning squads had the ability to roll four offensive lines that were capable of scoring. The need for skilled players has skyrocketed. Unfortunately for Tanner Glass, he is not that kind of player.

The Dallas Stars visit the Rangers on January 17 at Madison Square Garden. Will Stephane Quintal forewarn the players regarding consequences for some extracurricular activity beforehand just like he did with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks? Perhaps. At the end of the day, revenge is two points on the standings.

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Evan is the Hockey Editor for He provides coverage of the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and Philadelphia Flyers, as well as some league-wide content.

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