Henrik Lundqvist is widely considered the best goaltender in the world today, but can he remain an elite netminder under Alain Vigneault?
It goes without saying that the 31-year-old crease crusader greatly benefited and grew as a player while John Tortorella was behind the bench, but how will he fare under a coach who promotes offense?
During Tortorella's tenure, the Rangers were a strong defensive team that employed a system that helped insulate Lundqvist. While this system didn't carry Lundqvist, is surely helped him improve upon his already-solid numbers.
The Rangers blocked a ton of shots under Tortorella and didn't take a ton of offensive risks, and Lundqvist reaped the benefits of having strong shutdown defense in front of him. This system helped Lundqvist win a Vezina Trophy, and it helped the Rangers finish No. 1 overall in their conference during the 2011-12 season.
This season the Rangers plan on being more of a puck-possession team; could it have an impact on Lundqvist's ability to be an elite netminder?
Despite the Rangers’ plans to become more of an offensive team, Lundqvist will still be an elite netminder. While the swarthy Swede’s numbers could become a bit more human, he will still be one of the league leaders in major statistical categories.
Lundqvist may take some time adjusting to a new system, but he could end up being better for it.
Under Vigneault, the Blueshirts will be encouraged to take more chances offensively. Defensemen will pinch in, forwards will be allowed to take risks and more offensive chances will be created.
If successful, the Rangers will have the puck more, and this could lead to Lundqvist facing fewer shots. On the flip side, there could be scenarios in which the opposition will also generate chances, but Lundqvist will be in situations where it is just him and the shooter.
Lundqvist’s shootout history shows that he thrives in these high-pressure situations, so an up-tempo style shouldn’t negatively impact him.
The Blueshirts’ franchise player is one of the NHL's most athletic netminders today, and his reflexes and positioning allow him to save any puck he sees. Most of the goals Lundqvist surrendered last season were shots he didn’t see, or tips that were deflected by his defenders.
Many times last season Lundqvist would visibly show rage after a defender blocked his vision or deflected a puck past him. That should change this year, because the Rangers' offensive style is expected to change under AV.
Steve Zipay of Newsday spoke with Ryan McDonagh about the Rangers’ new up-tempo style and the changes that have already taken place:
We talk about new things we're working on. We want to be pretty aggressive [in our zone], trying to outnumber guys. Rather than trying to wait, we're trying to jump them. You're going into corners, lay the body, then go up the ice [to join the rush].
This style could take some time to implement, but in the long run Lundqvist and the Rangers should reap the benefits.
Fans and critics should consider that Vigneault is entering a familiar situation with the Rangers, and he has a proven track record with his coaching philosophy.
When AV took over as the Canucks’ bench boss, he took over a team that was led by an elite goaltender (Roberto Luongo) and played a defensive style.
Luongo remained a successful netminder even though the Canucks became more of an offensive team during AV's tenure, and the same should happen with Lundqvist. The Rangers netminder has been one of the NHL’s most consistent goalies since making his debut back in 2005-06, and this year should be no different.
Lundqvist is entering a contract year in which he is trying to secure what could be his last NHL contract, so expect him to come out with a ton of fire and intensity. While the Rangers could take some time to adjust to a new coach and system, there should be no fears that Lundqvist will cease to be one of the best goalies in the NHL.