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Henrik Lundqvist: Metropolitan Warrior

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Where we look at The King’s history against the division he has faced most over his storied career.

New York Rangers v Washington Capitals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The last time that player of Henrik Lundqvist’s legendary status was brought to Washington might be when the Caps brought Sergei Fedorov to the District from the Columbus Blue Jackets in February 2008. There was a certain mystery about Fedorov, though, a player with almost no history against the Caps (he dressed for 22 games against Washington in 17 seasons before arriving in Washington). If anything, Lundqvist is the opposite, among the opponents over the years most familiar to Caps fans owing to his career with the New York Rangers, a perennial Metropolitan Division archrival.

And that brings us to today’s look at Lundqvist. His experience against and familiarity with Metropolitan Division rivals are something upon which he can build a successful record for the Caps in intra-divisional play. So, what has that record in the Metro looked like over the years for The King?

Just a note about what it is we are looking at. First, we do not include games against the Caps in which Lundqvist appeared. Second, we are looking at his career record against each of the other teams in the division as it currently populated (Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, and Pittsburgh Penguins).

The Overall

Henrik Lundqvist has appeared in 319 games against six Metropolitan Division opponents (excluding the Caps and the New York Rangers) over his career, starting 316 times. In 15 seasons he has complied a record against those teams of 176-102-34 (seven no-decisions), with a 2.37 goals against average, a .919 save percentage, and 23 shutouts. It is an impressive record over years, to a point.

First, there is Lundqvist, the defender of the home turf versus Lundqvist, the Road Warrior. Over his 15-year career against the six Metro teams we identified, he has been consistent in his home and road performance with respect to stopping pucks, but the results have been less accommodating:

  • Home: 98-42-22, 2.30, .918, 18 shutouts
  • Road: 78-60-12, 2.45, .920, five shutouts

Those 18 shutouts at Madison Square Garden do stick out, especially considering that they were compiled over 166 starts on home ice. More than one instance in ten at home, Lundqvist pitched a shutout against one of those six Metro opponents.

But even with his consistency in save percentage, home versus road, he suffered a problem not of his making – shots faced. In 168 games on home ice he faced 28.05 shots per 60 minutes, while on the road that number increased to 30.71 shots per 60 minutes. It does not sound like a lot – 2.66 shot differential per 60 minutes – but it is a 9.5 percent increase over the home baseline. Small wonder, then, that his home goals against average (2.30) was so much better than his road goals against average (2.45), despite roughly equivalent save percentages.

Strength Comparison

Next, there is how he has fared in different strength situations. Henrik Lundqvist has been in the upper echelon of goalies since he came into the league in 2005-2006, especially in the basic task of stopping pucks. His career .918 save percentage over all situations ranks tied for ninth among 115 goalies facing at least 2,500 shots since the 2005-2006 season. He has been marginally better among the six Metropolitan Division teams in this discussion (.919).

Drilling down by strength, Lundqvist’s numbers against the Metro remain solid over the course of his career. His .927 career save percentage at even strength ranks tied for sixth overall in that group of 115 goalies, and his save percentage at evens against the Metro over that period is again marginally better (.928) than his overall.

If there is a flag here, it might be in how Lundqvist has fared over his career when facing power plays. His overall save percentage in such situations is .877, tied for 28th in the group of 115 goalies facing at least 2,500 shots since 2005-2006. He has, however, fared better than that against the six Metro teams over the same period. His .882 save percentage against those six teams over his career would rank tied for 13th overall.

Time waits for no one

Henrik Lundqvist is in rarified territory among goaltenders in league history. He is one of only 11 netminders to have logged at least 50,000 minutes in regular season action. That is a lot of minutes, and with them come a lot of wear. And while goalies of age 38 or older (Lundqvist turned 38 on March 2nd) can be successful – Johnny Bower won 106 games starting with his 38-year old year, Dominik Hasek had a 2.10 goals against average starting with his 38-year old year, Jacques Plante had a .927 save percentage starting with his 38-year old year — Lundqvist’s recent record might give one pause in contemplating his late career.

As it pertains to his record against the Metropolitan Division, there is a clear cleavage into his 11 seasons ending in 2015-2016, and the four seasons he has played since. Some of the difference can be explained by the deterioration of the skating roster in front of him in New York, but the numbers against the six Metro teams break down like this:

  • First 11 seasons: 266 games, 155-80-28, 2.22, .922, 23 shutouts
  • Last four seasons: 53 games, 21-22-6, 3.12, .905, no shutouts

Before the 2016-2017 season, Lundqvist never finished with a goals against average against the six Metro teams above 2.59. In the four years since, he has not been below 3.00 in any single season. Only once in those first 11 seasons was his save percentage as lower than .915 against the Metro teams (.912 in 2008-2009), but .915 is his high-water mark in the last four seasons (2017-2018).

Where is this headed?

No one thinks or expects Henrik Lundqvist will be the goalie he was ten years ago, or five, for that matter. He is more of a performance question mark now than he has been at any point of his career to date. His arrival comes with baggage filled with questions. Can he be an effective mentor for Ilya Samsonov? Can he provide 30-35 quality appearances over a full year’s worth of games (or 15-20 over, say, a 48-game schedule)? Can he step in on a moment’s notice to assume the number one duties in the event of injury or poor performance by Samsonov? If so, can he provide a sustained level of performance so long as he occupies that role?

He comes to Washington carrying that luggage having endured the writing on the wall in New York long before the 2019-2020 season ended. He made only five starts in the 2020 portion of last season for the Rangers, going 1-4-0, 3.91, .864, with a shutout against the Detroit Red Wings. Only one of those starts was against a Metropolitan Division team – he allowed five goals on the first 18 shots he faced in a 5-3 loss in New York to the Philadelphia Flyers on March 1st.

It might be most valuable to the Caps that Lundqvist can draw on his vast experience and his still formidable skill set to give the Caps an advantage against some of their closest and most bitter rivals. More than a third of his appearances, wins, and shutouts in Lundqvist’s career have come at the expense of the six Metropolitan Division teams looked at here. Consider that Lundqvist has more wins against the New Jersey Devils than does any other goaltender, has the second-highest win total against both the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers, the third-highest against the Carolina Hurricanes, and the fourth-highest against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Winning against these teams has been a habit, and although he has had less recent success against these teams than earlier in his career (mirroring the fortunes of the Rangers), it is a habit one that Caps fans hope will be restored as he settles in with his new team. And in future installments in this look at Lundqvist, we will look at how he has fared against each of those Metropolitan Division opponents.