Today, the NHL announced the finalists for the Vezina Trophy, awarded each season to the league’s best goaltender. For the 2011-12 season, the three nominees for the award are the Kings’ Jonathan Quick, the Predators’ Pekka Rinne, and the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist.
In a season that has featured many goalies with outstanding numbers, Quick, Rinne, and Lundqvist are all deserving of the nomination and all have numbers that make a compelling case for why they should win the Vezina. However, this year’s Vezina Trophy should be awarded to Lundqvist.
Despite being considered one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL since his arrival in 2005-06, Lundqvist’s 2011-12 season elevated his already high level of play. Although he was a workhorse for the majority of his Rangers’ career, ‘The King’ played fewer than 70 games for the first time since his rookie year, and the numbers improved as a result.
Lundqvist set career highs in wins (39), goals against average (1.97), and save percentage (.930). As the backbone of the team (he set a Rangers record by winning his 6th consecutive team MVP award), his high level of play was the main reason that the Rangers’ point total went up by sixteen points from a season ago.
One of the reasons that Lundqvist had a phenomenal year was the consistency of his play throughout it. Despite playing fewer games than both Quick and Rinne, he finished with the 2nd most wins out of the group (4 less than Rinne in 11 fewer games started), and the highest winning percentage.
Lundqvist also had four consecutive months (November-February) where his goals against average didn’t exceed 1.88, while facing 28.7 shots per game. This run put the Rangers at the top of the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference by late December, and kept them there for the remainder of the season.
In addition to his consistency throughout the entire season, the division that Lundqvist played in was probably the toughest of any division in the NHL for a goaltender. In 2011-12 both the Atlantic Division and the Central Division had four teams that recorded over 100 points during the regular season.
However, the top two teams in scoring in the NHL during the regular season played in the Atlantic Division (Penguins and Flyers), and not counting the Rangers, three of the four Atlantic Division teams finished in the top half of the league in goals per game. Surprisingly, his numbers against his division rivals were better than his overall numbers, as he had a 1.84 goals against average and a .936 save percentage. Lundqvist also went 14-5 in those games, including 6-0 against the Flyers.
The other factor that comes into play (rightly or wrongly) is where each player’s team finished in the regular season standings. While the Kings finished in the 8th spot in the Western Conference, and the Predators secured home-ice advantage in the first round with 104 points, the Rangers finished with 109 points, good enough for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and the 2nd best record in the NHL.
Lundqvist has been here before. He was nominated for the Vezina Trophy three times in his first six seasons, and now, his 4th nomination will bring him his first Vezina Trophy.