The main reason why the Rangers are in 1st place in the Eastern Conference is because of the play of one of the team’s three all-stars, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
The Rangers’ MVP for five of his six seasons in New York, Lundqvist has had a first half of the 2011-12 season that is undoubtedly his best season yet. After making 22 saves to record his 5th shutout of the season (40th of his career) against Winnipeg, Lundqvist is 22-10-4 in 36 starts, with a 1.87 goals against average and a .937 save percentage.
Lundqvist’s goals against average and save percentage are both 3rd in the NHL, behind the Bruins’ Tuukka Rask and the Blues’ Brian Elliot. However, although Rask and Elliot have slightly better numbers than Lundqvist and are able to qualify for the league leaders based on games played, both Rask and Elliot have played the fewer number of games for their teams compared to their goalie partners.
But while Lundqvist is unquestionably one of the top three goalies in the league, if not the best, is it reasonable to consider him as one of the best players in the league?
The chances of a goalie winning the Hart Trophy are similar to the chances of a pitcher in baseball winning the MVP. Since the Hart Trophy was awarded annually after the 1923-24 season, only six goalies have won the award, with Jose Theodore winning it most recently in 2002 as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
In the same way that pitchers in baseball have the Cy Young Award, goalies have the Vezina Trophy that is awarded annually, and since there is already recognition given to the best goalie for every season, goalies normally get excluded from consideration for the Hart Trophy.
However, Lundqvist’s season puts him into consideration for the Hart Trophy. Entering the all-star break, he is the only goaltender to be in the top 5 in the league in wins, goals against average, save percentage, and shutouts. More importantly, although the Rangers are 2nd in the NHL in points, they are only 11th in the league in goals, which reflects how important Lundqvist’s play has been to his team’s success.
It is also worth mentioning that among the skaters, there really isn’t a clear-cut candidate for the Hart Trophy. Evgeni Malkin’s recent surge has put him atop the league leaders in points, but he hasn’t been among the top five in the league in goals or points for most of the year.
Claude Giroux had a great start to the year, but has only two goals since returning from a concussion in December. Steven Stamkos leads the league with 32 goals, but despite a four game winning streak, the Lightning are still on the outside of the playoff picture.
Lundqvist’s first half of the season has been one to remember for him and his team. If his play, and the Rangers’ play as a result, continue to be at this level for the remainder of the season, it could be a season to remember in hockey history.