Henrik Lundqvist doesn't have to stop pucks. He stares them down, and he knows they ain't going in.

One of the more popular memes from the last few months in sports has been the MVP talk centred around Peyton Manning, a quarterback who didn’t play a snap for his Indianapolis Colts this season, yet drew ironic praise based on how poorly the team played without him.

The Colts, a team that had won at least 10 of its 16 regular season games for every year since 2001, lost Manning complications resulting from neck surgery this season and won just twice, losing 13 straight to start the season.

Why I bring this up is that a similar feeling popped up Thursday night when the New York Rangers played the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday. Goaltender Martin Biron, relieving starter Henrik Lundqvist for just the 14th time on the season, allowed four goals in the first period and three in the first four minutes of play.

Granted, three of those goals were breakaways or partial breaks, and only one appeared to be of the leaky variety, those are the saves that Lundqvist has been making all season, hence why a few jokesters on Twitter were awarding Lundqvist the Vezina Trophy for the league’s best goaltender.

Statistically, Lundqvist has been nails this season. Last season’s Boston Bruins, backed by Tim Thomas in net for most nights, were still a passable NHL team on their way to the playoffs. They had a score-tied Fenwick rate of 50.4%, meaning that the play was more often in the opposing end than not, relieving some of the defensive burden from Thomas. While the Bruins were average in that department last season, Lundqvist has not had that sort of luxury in New York this season: the team is just a 49% score-tied Fenwick team, putting the burden on Henrik more often than not. And he has yet to falter.

Lundqvist allowed fewer warmup goals than Martin Biron allowed in the game against Chicago

Rob Vollman at Hockey Prospectus has developed a statistic to track game-by-game goaltending performance called “quality starts”. “Formally,” he wrote in this season’s annual, “a Quality Start (QS) is assigned under two conditions: when a goalie stops more than a league-average percentage of the shots (typically, that’s 91.2%) or when he allows two or fewer goals while stopping 88.5%”. Tim Thomas is highlighted as having earned a quality start in 72.7% of his starts last season, though I calculated it at 74.5%, the lone caveat being a 7-4 win against Pittsburgh in which he stopped 42 of 46 shots for a save percentage of slightly above .913 on the game.

To complement quality starts, my partner-in-crime (I bring him drinks and hot oil massages) Thomas Drance, a writer for Canucks Army and Pass it to Bulis (everybody in the Canucks blogosphere writes for at least one blog) once tracked “blow ups” (BU) as a game-to-game indicator of how often a goalie played poorly enough to almost guarantee his team won’t win—a BU is defined as a game where a goalie stops fewer than 85% of his shots or allows 5 or more goals on 39 or fewer shots.

Anyway, Tim Thomas only had four of those last season, giving him a BU% of 7.3%. Typically, a good goaltender will be between 10-12% in this regard. You’ll see where I’m going in a minute with this, but the important thing to consider is that Thomas played out of his mind last year, putting up arguably the best season statistically of any goaltender of all time, and won a Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe, Vezina, the whole works. He had an even strength save percentage of .947, leading the NHL.

Is it possible, however, that Henrik Lundqvist could put up better numbers this season?

Lundqvist, who plays a higher percentage of Boston starts (he’s already at 42 starts this season. Thomas topped off at 55 last year thanks to the fact that he has a very capable backup in Tuukka Rask). He leads the NHL in even strength save percentage among starters with .945, slightly lower than Thomas’ clip from last season, but his game-to-game stats may be a little better.

In 42 starts this season, Lundqvist has put up a quality start 32 times, for a 76.1% rate. As for games wherein he has allowed 5 or more, or has stopped fewer than 85% of his starts, there are none. Hank Lundqvist has a clean bill of health as far as blow ups are concerned, and this makes Lundqvist a very dangerous team.

Lundqvist’s .941 save percentage overall will probably regress a little. It’s not so much a good season so much as it is stupid good. Tim Thomas had the best season a goaltender could have a year ago and Lundqvist is matching him shot for shot. As far as stat-geeks are concerned, this will be a very interesting matchup down the stretch.

And, of course, Hank will be forced to start a few more. After a very rough outing by Martin Biron, (one which resulted in a BU being “credited” to the 34-year old journeyman ‘tendy) you have to wonder how many more starts, scarce already, Rangers coach John Tortorella will bestow unto Biron throughout the season. Another burden may be placed on Lundqvist’s back, but over the course of his career, he’s shown the ability to carry the load. Should he sustain his play through April, well, there’s truly something awesome there.

Comments (7)

  1. Interesting – I was waiting for this type of article to pop up somewhere. I would be interested to know what Lundqvist’s shorthanded save % is too, and how that compares to Thomas last year.

    As for the rest of the season, the worst thing the NYR can do would be to overplay Lundqvist because of a fear of…what…dropping out of the playoffs? losing home ice? Big deal. I’d rather the NYR start the playoffs on the road with a somewhat rested Lundqvist, than start the playoffs at home with a guy whos played 24 of the final 26. The NYR have used him great so far, playing him 3/4 of the games. If that continues down the stretch, he’ll get another 19 starts, and be at 61. I’d shoot for 58-60 games if I were the NYR, and not worry about whether they are the 1 or 5 seed.

    • Sure – .917 on the PK for Lundqvist this season vs. .889 for Thomas last year.

      New York’s superior penalty kill may win this one for Hank.

      • Are you saying that the NYR skaters are better at the preventing shots than the Bruins skaters were? That .917 % has to be up on the expected range. How much of that is the NYR skaters? Are they limiting chances better than the Bruins were?

  2. Lundqvist is having a Vezina type year… along with a TON of shots being blocked before they even get to him. Biron’s performance in the first few minutes against a team that was desperately in need of a mental turnaround to support their coach and get the monkey off their backs, and finally looked like the team they really are, has nothing to do with Biron’s abilities. The Hawks were on a mission. The whole Manning/Colts analogy falls WAY short too. The Rangers/Biron’s numbers are no where near as bad without Lundqvist as the Colts have been without Manning:

    GAA W L OT SO Sv%
    Henrik Lundqvist 1.77 27-11-4 7 .941
    Martin Biron 2.17 10-3-1 2 .913

    • I agree, Biron has been a good backup goalie this year, and I really hope we can have him for another year or two in the same role.

      And since I like stats too:
      Biron has started 14 games this year.
      He has 3 BU for 21.5% of his starts. Not great, but acceptable.
      He also has 8 QS for 57% of his starts.
      A fairly ok number, and his 10 wins in 14 games is an indicator that he’s pretty good as well.

      I’m pretty sure Biron will get another 4-7 games, probably one or two close before the play-offs, to make sure Lundy is well rested in time for playoffs.

      And just for the fun of it, and another reason why I trust Biron as a goalie:
      Last year before Biron got his season ending injury, in his 15 starts:
      1 BU for 6.67
      11 QS for 73.3 %

  3. Good article, but absolutely rife with errors. You might want to proofread a couple more times or have someone else proofread.

  4. it’s the latest installment of terrible writing with cam charron!

    “The Colts, a team that had won at least 10 of its 16 regular season games for every year since 2001, lost Manning complications resulting from neck surgery this season”

    – that is a linguistic abortion

    “Granted, three of those goals were breakaways or partial breaks, and only one appeared to be of the leaky variety, those are the saves that Lundqvist has been making all season, hence why a few jokesters on Twitter were awarding Lundqvist the Vezina Trophy for the league’s best goaltender.”

    – needs more commas! also, might be one of the most poorly-constructed sentences ever written

    “Lundqvist, who plays a higher percentage of Boston starts (he’s already at 42 starts this season. Thomas topped off at 55 last year thanks to the fact that he has a very capable backup in Tuukka Rask).”

    – pretty sure lundqvist plays zero percent of boston starts.

    “As for games wherein he has allowed 5 or more, or has stopped fewer than 85% of his starts,”

    – how do you stop your starts?

    does backhand shelf lock in your shitty articles, making them impossible to edit? because you should probably go back and change some of this garbage. it’s brutal.

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