Thursday, November 25, 2010

Rangers Play Differently With Henrik Lundqvist Between The Pipes

Update 11/26/2010 10:35 AM: The following quote from Brandon Dubinsky to Jesse Spector says it all.

 “He’s one of the best goalies in the league, and we haven’t been very good in front of him,” Brandon Dubinsky said. “It just sucks, because he’s always been there for us and always been the rock for us. We’ve got to make sure we come prepared and play harder in front of him.”

Over the past few seasons I have joked about how the Rangers defensively seem to play better and harder for the backup than they do for Henrik Lundqvist.  Earlier this season after the big win in Toronto I suggested playing Biron again against Boston and in that article I wrote the following:

The other main reason I see is that I have noticed over the last few years that this team tends to focus a lot more defensively when a goalie other than Henrik is in the net.   I mean no disrespect to Martin Biron or the performance he put on last night because he was superb, but we have not seen that kind of team effort in game up to that point this year.  I do not know if the effort last night was about playing better in front of the backup goalie or if it was just the total team desperation, but what I would say is giving it another game to sink in and become more ritualized can be a good thing as opposed to them “letting up” because they have Lundqvist back there to be the proverbial bail out. 

This trend has continued throughout the season so far and while Lundqvist has certainly not played to his highest levels he has gotten little help and most of our worst defensive efforts in front of him.  Last night was no different as routinely men were left wide open in front, odd man rushes, even short-handed breakaways given up with the expectation that Henrik would bail them out.  There is no debating that over the years there have been plenty of nights where Henrik has done just that and bailed out a subpar defensive and offensive effort in supporting out and gotten the team a win it did not deserve.  The reality though is that the effort from a defense should not be contingent on which guy is wearing the mask behind them and the fact that it seems to be should embarrass every other man in that locker room, especially the six who are charged with being the ones closest to Henrik in his starts.

Now I don’t think stats are necessary to back up what appears to be obvious to the fans of this club who see the games, but thanks to RangerSmurf I have the totals he compiled leading into the Lightning game to look at the differential in the quality of our defense for Lunqvist versus how they play for Martin Biron.  These numbers are just scoring chances at even strength in Henrik’s 8 starts in October the team played pretty even in terms of chances generate versus the number given up.  That said the team was a relatively high total in generating 105 chances or 17.32 chancers per 60 minutes while surrendering 110 or 18.15 chances per 60.  In November the chances generated has fallen off sharply to 13.96 per 60 and 73 total while they have surrendered 17.02 per 60 and 89 in total.  That means in raw chances in the 15 starts Lundqvist had heading into the Lightning game the team had been out chanced 199 to 178 in his starts.

For Martin Biron the numbers were 32 chances generated in October or 19.02 per 60 for and 23 or 13.67 per 60 against.  In November the play for Biron has only improved as he is now getting 19.43 chances for per 60 and 84 in total, while the team has only allowed 12.96 per 60 which is a total of only 56.  So taking the raw totals for Biron the Rangers have generated 116 chances in his starts and only surrendered 79.  Combining those two sets of data the Rangers are a -21 in terms of scoring chances in the Lundqvist starts and a +37 in the Biron ones, which is a staggering differential that tells you just how thoroughly different the team is playing based on who is in net.  While I believe scoring chances better articulate the difficulty a goalie is facing in raw shot totals the Rangers give up 31.19 shots per game in Henrik’s starts which even counts the Colorado game as a full one and 26.14 in Biron’s starts.

Yes, part of the number disparities can be explained away by the fact that the Rangers have played better teams on average for the Lundqvist starts than the Biron starts, but it does not account for the sheer number of turnovers in the defensive zone, volume of odd-man rushes, wide open men in front of the net and increased allowance of contact on the goaltender that occurs significantly more in the games in which Henrik is in the net as opposed to Biron.  I am not trying to suggest that the team is intentional sabotaging Lundqvist or anything along those lines and there is a natural inclination based on the faith they have in Henrik and history of him bailing them out to rely on him to bail them out, but every stinker the Rangers have put up this season in terms of desire to play happened with him in net.  Every game in which they got down and decided it was too hard to fight back happened with him in the net.  It almost becomes a scenario where if Henrik stands on his head they want to watch him and if he fails to do so they don’t believe they can win anyway instead of taking the approach they do with Biron to outwork their opponents. 

In his last five games Henrik has surrendered 17 goals and other than Erskine that he should stop because he is Erskine and Recchi you could argue the rest were not his fault.  Now some of them he should probably stop, and some of them if he was on top of his game he probably would, but the defensive efforts in front of him have been atrocious and whether he wants to say it or not it is getting to his confidence.  The Rangers can sugarcoat it all they want with the work on his technique line they used the past 4 days, but it is really about confidence and knowing that I don’t see how sitting him against Calgary to come back against a lineup like the Lightning was supposed to do anything for his confidence even if his defense actually showed up tonight.  Maybe the scoreless third where he made some good saves will help him, but if he continues to get run with no consequence and the countless defensive mistakes (turnovers, odd-man rushes) continue his frustration is only going to build, which will lead to bad things.  There are a lot of guys on this team that you can wonder how much they want it on a given night and I know for many they would say Cally wants it the most, but as a leader and desire to win every night, the accountability and standards set for their own play no one is higher than Henrik in my opinion.  This team as was true the last number of years only goes as far as Henrik Lundqvist can carry them, but to borrow a sentiment from John Tortorella’s press conference after last night’s game, it is time for all the other guys to start carrying their share or frankly the weight looks like it is going to crush Hank pretty soon.  I am not asking for them to do anything spectacular, just give the same energy and effort they do when the Biron is in the net.