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Saturday, October 19, 2013
Blame game? Lundqvist: 'Start with me'

By Katie Strang

NEWARK, N.J. -- There haven't been many good answers for the Rangers lately, at least not by way of explaining their woeful 2-5-0 start to the season.

But after a dispiriting 4-0 blanking from the New Jersey Devils -- who'd been the only team in the entire league without a win yet this season -- goaltender Henrik Lundqvist provided one.

Henrik Lundqvist
Henrik Lundqvist hasn't been himself this season.
"Start with me," he said. "I have to be better and give confidence to the group. ... Let's start there."

The 31-year-old goaltender, who has proved almost infallible in his steadiness throughout the years, struggled again Saturday night against the team's Hudson River rivals.

He surrendered two shaky goals in the first period -- Andrei Loktionov buried a rebound five-hole at 7:22; Adam Henrique beat him from the left faceoff circle later in the frame -- and didn't even remotely resemble the same player that was aggressive in turning away all 22 shots in a shutout performance against the Capitals on Wednesday.

In fact, he hasn't really resembled his former Vezina Trophy-winning self all season, though it's still early. The stretch is unlike any other in recent memory for Lundqvist, and it's cause for concern.

In seven appearances this season, Lundqvist has given up 20 goals for a 3.45 goals-against average and an .890 save percentage.

"I don't want to over-analyze it. There are a few things I need to work on, but I think mostly it's the way I focus," he said. "When I play well, my focus is really crisp and I'm making good decisions. I feel like right now, it's a little up and down in how well I make decisions out there."

Whether his focus has been muddled by his contract negotiations -- Lundqvist is in the last year of a six-year, $41.25 million deal -- is up for debate. Whatever the case, he can't afford to let any sort of external distractions hamper his play.

Unlike the team's disastrous West Coast trip to start the season, there wasn't the abundance of defensive mistakes and recklessness with the puck to contribute to the problem. There was neither the requisite urgency nor the necessary offensive response, but Lundqvist's teammates were not complicit to the same degree as in recent losing efforts.

Lundqvist surrendered four goals on the first 13 shots Saturday and was only really screened on one. The team limited New Jersey to 19 shots, eight scoring chances according to coach Alain Vigneault, leaving Lundqvist the primary culprit for their early, and costly, hole.

"I'm sure if you were to ask him, he would probably tell you that he can be better than what he's shown and he needs to be better," Vigneault said.

For all the times that Lundqvist has been the team's sole savior between the pipes, he deserves that same effort from his teammates. There has been improvement since the team’s return from out West, but not a response commensurate with what the situation requires.

"I don't think we were outplayed 4-nothing, but right now it's tough, offensively," alternate captain Brad Richards said. "We need to be find a way to be more desperate in that area of the ice."

It doesn't help that the team is without three of its top six forwards -- with captain Ryan Callahan (hand), Rick Nash (concussion) and Carl Hagelin all sidelined with injury -- but that can't be a crutch.

In order to avoid becoming a bottom-dweller in the Eastern Conference, the Rangers have to find ways to win, regardless.

"I know it's there. We showed it, I showed it the other night. Personally, I just need to focus on the right things here and stay positive," Lundqvist said. "Right now, when things go against you, you tend to focus more on the negative sides more than the positive sides. That's something that I need to change."