Henrik Lundqvist set an NHL benchmark Tuesday, winning his 20th game for the 13th straight season, and his record-setting consistency is another reason to rate him among the great goaltenders of the modern era.
For the New York Rangers, Tuesday’s convincing 5-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers was notable in that it propelled the Blueshirts, who have been in and out of the playoff picture for much of the season, into the top wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. But for goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, the win was significant in that it was his 20th of the campaign, a victory which allowed the veteran netminder to set a new NHL benchmark in terms of goaltending consistency.
With 20 wins this season — and a lot of runway left to add to that win total — Lundqvist became the first goaltender in league history to win at least 20 games for 13 consecutive seasons. And to save you some digging to verify that for yourself, rest assured that Lundqvist does indeed hold the mark. Martin Brodeur came close, winning 20 games in 12 consecutive seasons before an injury shortened his 2008-09 campaign. Patrick Roy would likewise have a career chockfull of 20-win seasons were it not for the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season. Dominik Hasek had too many seasons shortened by an ailment here and tweak there to manage that kind of win-column consistency. And among other netminders among the top of the heap in all-time wins, the likes of Ed Belfour, Roberto Luongo, Curtis Joseph and Terry Sawchuk, none pieced together more than nine 20-win seasons in a row.
There’s arguably no season in which Lundqvist reaching 20 wins has been as impressive as the current campaign, however. While some may contend that other Rangers teams during Lundqvist’s 13-season tenure with the organization have had less overall talent or shoddier bluelines, the fact of the matter is Lundqvist, mere months away from his 36th birthday, has pieced together a 20-win campaign in slightly more than half a campaign during a season in which he started slow but has turned it on to become a legitimate Vezina Trophy candidate.
To be sure, by any standard, not just Lundqvist’s, the start of his season was shaky. Entering November, by which point Lundqvist had suited up in 10 games, he boasted a bloated 3.21 goals-against average and a wholly unsatisfactory .898 save percentage. His 3-4-2 record wasn’t up to snuff and if one was looking for any further indication Lundqvist hadn’t looked like himself, the proof was in back-to-back nights of backup duty for ‘King Henrik.’ In consecutive October contests, Lundqvist ceded starting duty to Ondrej Pavelec, a scenario few would have believed possible when the puck dropped to start the season. And after a 2016-17 campaign in which Lundqvist had posted a career-worst 2.74 GAA and .910 SP, there were whispers this could be the beginning of the end.
Lundqvist, however, is clearly having none of that discussion. Since the beginning of November, Lundqvist has methodically worked his way into legitimate Vezina discussion, and his numbers tell the story. From Nov. 1 to present, there are 28 goaltenders who have played in at least 20 games. Lundqvist’s .932 SP over that span ties him for tops in the league alongside Andrei Vasilevskiy and Frederik Andersen. Lundqvist’s 2.30 GAA is the third-best mark in the league over that same timeframe. At 5-on-5, Lundqvist has also turned in an impressive .935 SP, which ranks third among 20-game goaltenders across the past two-and-a-half months. And he’s managed these marks while facing the second-heaviest workload at all strengths — 913 shots — across his past 28 appearances.
But Lundqvist’s resurgence, both in terms of a turnaround from last season and reversal of fortune from earlier in the campaign, paired with his establishing a new high-water mark for crease consistency leaves one to wonder where, with a new accolade to his name, he ranks among goaltenders in the modern era. Namely, those who have redefined the position over the past 25 years, as it would be challenging to compare Lundqvist to the Sawchuks, Ken Drydens, Tony Espositos and Jacques Plantes of the goaltending fraternity.
Based purely on victories, Lundqvist is safely within the top 10 among goaltenders who’ve made their careers in the 1990s and onward. Only five — Brodeur, Roy, Belfour, Luongo and Joseph — have more victories to their name than Lundqvist, who boasts 425 wins. Granted, Lundqvist has three years after this season remaining on his contract, which should make him good for at least 60 more wins. At 485 victories, he would sit behind only Brodeur, the all-time leader with 691 victories, and Roy, second with 551, on the historical leaderboard. But worth keeping in mind about Lundqvist is he hasn’t won based simply on quantity. His winning percentage in the modern era, .545, is second only to Brodeur.
Undeniably, though, goaltending greatness isn’t solely associated with winning. There’s a list of forgettable goaltenders who have won 30-plus games in a season at some point in their careers. What catapults a netminder into the upper echelon is the ability to put up numbers that signify they’re responsible for those victories. It’s why Hasek is considered one of the greatest goaltenders in league history despite sitting 13th on the all-time wins list. But Hasek, who has six Vezinas to his name, was a master of the crease, posting gaudy SP numbers and a boatload of shutouts over the course of his career. And while Lundqvist can’t measure up to Hasek’s 81 career shutouts or his career .922 SP, the Rangers netminder isn’t really all that far off.
When it comes to the latter, Lundqvist has played in an era where SP totals are inflated as the position has become increasingly studied and refined, but that doesn’t discredit the fact he ranks fifth among all goaltenders in league history. Contemporaries such as Tuukka Rask, Braden Holtby and Cory Schneider hold down the first, third and fourth spots on the all-time list, with Hasek in the second spot and Lundqvist holding off Sergei Bobrovsky, who is sixth by only a fraction of a fraction of a point. Nevertheless, Lundqvist’s career SP outmeasures those of Brodeur and Roy. Where this evens out, though, is that Lundqvist ranks behind both on the all-time shutout leaders list. Lundqvist — who, again, has three years left to add to his totals — ranks 16th with 63 shutouts. In the coming years, he stands to pass Patrick Roy (66 shutouts) and will enter the top 10 with another 13 clean slates, but he’ll never catch Brodeur, of course, who has an NHL record 125 blankings.
The final piece, and the elusive piece for Lundqvist, is, for some, the measuring stick for greatness: hardware. When it comes to the Stanley Cup, Brodeur has three rings. Roy has four. Hasek has two. Belfour has one. But Lundqvist is among a group of goaltenders, a couple of whom are among the 10 winningest in league history, without a single championship. Luongo has yet to win his first and likely won’t before his career closes. Joseph retired without hoisting the league’s top prize. Going back a generation, Esposito called it quits without a Stanley Cup on his resume. That’s the company Lundqvist keeps. And it’s not just a lack of Stanley Cups that could, in the minds of some, damage Lundqvist’s standing among the modern greats. He has only one Vezina despite being a finalist five times in his career. Hasek, Brodeur, Roy and Belfour on the other hand won all but four of the Vezinas handed out across a 19-year stretch from 1989 to 2008. That’s 15 combined victories. But others, such as Joseph and Luongo, haven’t won the award even once.
Even when piecing it all together, though, there’s no definite answer as to where Lundqvist ranks all-time. That’s for each fan to decide themselves and no doubt a good topic for some friendly debate. However, given Lundqvist has now set a league record for consistency, something no other netminder of this era or in the past has been able to accomplish, it would be difficult to leave him outside the top-five of this era, and he seems deserving of a spot right behind Hasek, Roy and Brodeur.
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