Just as it was with the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan, the fortunes of the Rangers rest squarely on the shoulders of one player, Henrik Lundqvist. The Blueshirts star backstop is arguably the biggest cause of the team’s recent string of playoff appearances. Having started his career with four straight 30+ win seasons (and a career high 38 wins last season), Lundqvist has been the organization’s one constant during a period when sweeping changes have been made each offseason. This season will be his most challenging as the team will be adapting to Coach John Tortorella’s up tempo attacking style that puts much of the pressure on the goaltender to erase the numerous scoring opportunities awarded the opponent as a result of the defense’s role in the system. Seeing how Lundqvist has handled everything else in his short career it’s no stretch to think he will more than be up to the challenge. The only question will be how much playing time will Henrik get this season? Like many of the Rangers, Lundqvist seemed tired during the Rangers disappointing playoff loss to the Capitals last season and with this season’s schedule plus the Olympic Break in February, Tortorella is looking to make sure that fatigue factor does not creep in again. I would expect Lundqvist to play 50-55 games (plus his duties as Team Sweden’s netminder in Vancouver) in an attempt to keep him fresh. During the preseason, Henrik looked very sharp and seemed to have fixed the mechanical flaw which hurt him at the end of last season and in the postseason (dropping too quickly and exposing the top of the net). I’m sure he and goaltending guru Benoit Allaire worked very hard to get Henrik back to the all star level he played at throughout most of the year. With his workload sure to decrease from season’s past, it will be tough for Lundqvist to repeat or surpass last season’s win total but a 30 win season and a strong GAA should be counted on from the hard working and very steady “King of NY”.
With Torts looking to reduce Lundqvist’s time between the pipes in an effort to keep him fresh come playoff time, backup Stephen Valiquette will be counted upon to step up and play at a high level. Valiquette is an efficient goaltender who competes very hard and has confidence in his abilities. He should be able to handle the increased duties and give Henrik a chance to catch his breath following what will surely be a tough olympic tournament.
Once again, the Rangers look set in goal and if Tortorella’s plans work, Lundqvist should help carry the team to another postseason birth and also be in the running for individual honors come season’s end.