No matter how you slice it, it can't be denied that New York Rangers starting goaltender Henrik Lundqvist did very well in Game 1. After all, he stopped all 21 shots that the New Jersey Devils fired at him in a 3-0 win. He cut off the angle to make himself look big; he reacted very quickly within the crease; and there weren't a lot of loose pucks around him. Lundqvist did his job. While there's a lot of hockey left to be played in this series, Game 1 proved that Lundqvist will continue to be a big reason why the Rangers are where they are and why they can keep going ahead.
Since Lundqvist shutout the Devils in Game 1, it stands to reason that the first step for New Jersey in Game 2 will be to score a goal. Of course, that's a lot easier said than done. Lundqvist isn't some third-stringer getting hot, some inconsistent goaltender playing well for the time being, or an under-the-radar goaltending tandem with good numbers. He's one of the best goaltenders in the world right now. Coming off a shutout, one question looms large: How can he be beaten?
In an attempt to find some good suggestions on how, I looked at the last two series the Rangers went through in the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. They both went to seven games. Sure, they won against the Ottawa Senators and the Washington Capitals, but they lost three games each to both teams. While almost every game was close; Lundqvist certainly wasn't perfect in each and every game. Lundqvist allowed a total of 25 goals in those 14 games. While I'm not going to throw up a giant list of every goal against, I think I found some common threads that the Devils should look for themselves in Game 2 and beyond. Please continue on after the jump for what I found along with video examples of Lundqvist getting scored on.Note: If you'd like to see all of the goals yourselves, NHL.com has a great page for each series that has immediate access to the highlights for each game. Here's the page for the Ottawa series and here's the page from the Washington series. Just select the one you're interested and click on the goals you want to see. I'll embed a few examples to highlight each point.
Going High Can Work - On Either Side
One of the common statements I've heard here and there was that Lundqvist is weak to shots that go high on his glove side. Well, I'm not sure where that came from. Lundqvist has been beaten high in 12 out of the 25 goals against in the postseason. That in of itself is not a bad idea at all. However, he's been beaten seven times high on his blocker side as opposed to five on his glove side. Here's an example from Game 3 of the Washington series:
John Carlson gets fortunate that the puck is stick-checked right back to him and he does fire across his body. Still, he beats Lundqvist cleanly to the goalie's right side. Here's another example from the Ottawa series:
Milan Michalek put up a great backhanded shot. Notice how Lundqvist got his right arm after the puck already past him. He can definitely be beaten on that side.
This isn't to say that the book on Lundqvist should be "high, blocker side." Lundqvist did give up a few high shots on his glove side. A handful of pucks also got through his five-hole; and a couple others got in low. The point I'm trying to make is that the Devils shouldn't focus on one particular spot. If there's a hole or a spot that he can't get, then by all means, fire it there. If they want to go high, they can find success - the Devils just shouldn't only aim to his right. Blocker side can yield success.
Create Opportunities Before the Rangers Set Up on Defense
The Rangers have been notorious for collapsing players into the slot along with skaters pressing in their coverage and staying in shooting lanes for blocks. I doubt the Rangers are going to do something different after doing it all season. Trying to make them regret going for blocks isn't going to do much good for the same reason. So how can the Devils get around the problem of too much traffic in the way?
One way is to create an offensive chance before the Rangers can set up on defense. This means odd man rushes and setting up plays before the defense can get situated in their own end. The Michalek goal video is a very good example. Matt Carkner was in a one-on-one with his defender; but he saw Michalek streak down the middle ahead of the Ranger before his man could make a play. One pass and Michalek is in a one-on-one with Lundqvist. Here's another example from the Washington series.
This begins as a three-on-two rush off a turnover. It's a slow-developing play, but the two Rangers defenders are in no-man's land. The trailing player is in a great spot, Joel Ward gets to an open spot, and threads a good pass to Mike Knuble for an easy tap-in. It's not just a great play for a goal, but it's proof that the Rangers can be exposed in an odd man rush. Here's another example, this time from the Ottawa series:
This isn't an odd man rush, but it is a situation where the Rangers defense is in motion almost on their heels. Mark Stone saw Jason Spezza split the defense as soon his backchecker peeled off. Stone's pass was excellent and it gave Spezza a one-on-one situation with Lundqvist. One shot through his legs later and it's more proof that the Rangers can be beaten off the rush - even if the attacking team doesn't have an advantage in numbers. Here's one last example to showcase how a rush can prove deadly.
While it looked like a three-on-two, the play was more or less a two-on-two. The pass to Jason Chimera was well placed and the one-timer finish was very well done. While the Rangers' defensemen are very good when they're able to get into position and into shooting lanes, they're not as effective when they're skating backwards or in an odd man situation. That's true for a lot of teams and those rushes aren't always available; it's still something the Devils should absolutely try since they had so much trouble getting open looks on net in Game 1.
Don't Hope for Rebounds or Traffic to Benefit the Shooter
With all of this shot blocking and saves by Lundqvist, why not just crash the net, hope for a bounce, and put it in? Why not get more bodies in front so Lundqvist can't even see the shot? I understand and sympathize with those ideas. The problem with both approaches that it requires a great deal of luck. With the Rangers already dropping bodies into the slot regularly; adding more players down low increases the likelihood of the shot being blocked. Sure, Lundqvist doesn't see it - but neither does the shooter see where to place the puck. Lundqvist has only been beaten through multiple bodies a handful of times. That doesn't help. Rebounds haven't plentiful; unless I missed something, I only counted one goals against Lundqvist off a rebound (Chimera's goal in Game 6 of the Washington series). Only one goal has been scored so far against Lundqvist by way of a favorable bounce by a Ranger block: Chris Neil's overtime winner in the Ottawa series. Moreover, if the Rangers have already collapsed, then they're already set up and in the area to clean up anything loose from a rebound or a puck put intentionally wide. Don't get me wrong, I'd be happy for the Devils to score by any means. I just don't think the Devils should play into the Rangers' defensive tendencies. Ottawa and Washington didn't score many goals in those ways.
Do Fire Away Before Lundqvist Gets Set
Lundqvist is very quick and he's very good in terms of getting into position to make a stop. Just ask Ilya Kovalchuk after Game 1 of the Devils series. However, he's not perfect. Every goaltender has to adjust when the play changes right in front of him. In all of the videos embedded so far, you can see Lundqvist forced to shift, slide, or adjust his form. When that happens, the shot's taken and so it's more difficult than usual for him to make the stop. In these examples, he's not making it. Here's a few more examples of this in action:
In the dying minutes of Game 1 of the Ottawa series, the Senators breakdown the Rangers to a point where they get a two-on-one down low. Erik Condra gets the pass on the flank, Lundqvist desperately dives to try and stop it, and he doesn't. Condra actually puts the puck to the top right corner, where Lundqvist was initially. He figured on the goalie going hard his way, so rather than hope his shot beats the goaltender, he put it in a spot where there couldn't be a save. Here's another example, but from the Washington series:
Brooks Laich gets the puck in a good spot and Lundqvist isn't really set because he has a little traffic - not a lot of traffic, that's key - in front of him. Laich doesn't settle the puck; he takes advantage with a one-timer before Lundqvist can get around the screen. His shot was on target and in the net. Here's another example, also with a screen and also from the Washington series:
Nicklas Backstrom gets a great pass that went through four Rangers and so he's alone with Anton Stralman in the slot. Backstrom doesn't delay, he gets his shot off before Stralman gets down on one knee and, more importantly, before Lundqvist can really come out and get set. It's not a one-timer, but Backstrom was wise to fire that puck the moment he saw an opening. One more example, though it's a little more subtle.
When Alex Ovechkin fires a one-timer, you can believe it's going to be hard, fast, and nasty. By the time Lundqvist turns completely towards Ovechkin, that puck is already coming at him. Lundqvist correctly guessed where it was headed; but he couldn't get all of it with his glove. Instead, it went off it and into the net. OK, Ovechkin got a break there; but it's another goal allowed by Lundqvist where he wasn't fully set for the shot. In his defense, he didn't have a lot of time to do so.
In some of these examples, the idea seems really obvious. Forcing any goaltender to go from post-to-post is difficult for the goaltender. However, quickly changing the point of attack and taking a quick shot also works even on a goaltender as skilled as Lundqvist. If he's not fully set, then it's harder for him to make a save. A hurried shot could result in a miss or placed elsewhere; but I'd rather the Devils do more of that than delay in shooting or, worse, pass up a shot because it's not a great look. It doesn't have to be a great look on net; a good one can definitely suffice.
Above All Else, Never Give Up
Here's a power play goal by John Carlson that's just the result of a consistent effort. Three shots were attempted, and at least one was blocked out. The Capitals didn't give up on the power play. They just kept possession, they kept firing if they had the semblence of a look on net, and they didn't delay when they shot it. Eventually, one of them got through. While the Devils had a lot of shooting attempts, the consistent possession wasn't always there in Game 1. If they can corral loose pucks and quickly turn those into shots before the Rangers get up on the puck carrier, then they can be rewarded.
Also: Lundqvist wasn't fully set, there was some but not an incredible amount of traffic, Carlsson fired his shot quickly, and, I'm sure you noticed, it went high. Glove side, even.
Are these bullet proof ways to beat Lundqvist? No. There's an element of luck in all of them. There's an element of luck in all goals scored. Nevertheless, these are some common threads I noticed in the 25 goals Lundqvist has allowed in the postseason. These are ways that Lundqvist has been beaten and I expect he can be beaten by them again. I think they're good suggestions as any to follow; and a lot better than hoping the puck gets through three to five bodies in the slot. If they seem a bit cliche or obvious, then I will admit that they are. They're good strategies against any goaltender. Hopefully, the Devils follow some of them (or get the chance to) in Game 2, get one goal, get some more, and get back into this series.
Do you have any other suggestions on what the Devils should do based on how the Senators and Capitals scored their goals? What do you make of these examples on their own? Will the Devils score a goal in Game 2? Will they score more than one? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about how Lundqvist can be beaten in the comments. Thank you for reading.