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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Henrik Lundqvist is Playing the Puck More


WINNIPEG – A new dimension of Henrik Lundqvist’s game is taking the Rangers goaltender in a direction he never thought he’d go: away from his own net.
In his eighth NHL season, with last year’s Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie increasing Lundqvist’s comfort level, the Blueshirts’ 31-year-old anchor is trying to become a puck-playing resource for his defensemen while remaining that reliable netminder.
“The last couple weeks I’ve been trying to play the puck more, not so much just firing the puck, but actually playing the puck,” Lundqvist told the Daily News Tuesday morning in Buffalo. “I talked to (goaltending coach Benoit Allaire) about it and we worked on it in practice a couple of times. I know I can play the puck, I just need to focus more on it in practice and also during the games to be more aware of what’s going on.”

It gives you another dimension as far as breakouts,” top-pair defenseman Ryan McDonagh said Wednesday morning in Winnipeg. “The forecheckers have to kind of read off which way he can go with it, forehand or backhand, and it slows down their speed and gives him more options. He can be simple and get it up towards the hash marks and away from the net and then bat it up there, or make the right read and get it to me or the left or right defenseman and have a big breakout. He’s been a lot better and a lot more confident, and he helps our chances getting out of the zone.”

The real person to ask whether Lundqvist has improved playing the puck, though, is veteran backup goaltender Martin Biron, well known throughout his career for frequent trips to the boards.
“Hank has been very, very good playing the puck,” Biron said Tuesday in Buffalo. “Guys have noticed … Playing it more doesn’t always mean playing it well, and sometimes, like for me, to keep it simpler now playing the puck makes me more efficient. I used to play the puck like 100 times more but I’d be (committing) turnovers all over the freaking defensive zone.
“Now I’m not playing it as much, but I’m more efficient, so you have to be careful,” Biron continued. “And I think that’s what Henke’s doing well, is he’s playing it a little bit more, but it hasn’t affected his efficiency (making saves), and he’s been more efficient that way, actually.”
“I think Marty’s rubbing off on him a little bit – Marty’s so good at it,” coach John Tortorella said Thursday in Winnipeg. “I think Hank has made some really good plays. His main focus needs to be to stop the puck. I don’t want him to step out of himself that way. But he has made some good plays. Certainly, when you have a goaltender that moves the puck, it creates problems for a forechecking team.”
Tortorella said Lundqvist helps the Rangers’ defensive zone breakouts “at times,” though, because he’s not above making mistakes either.
In the first period of Thursday’s 3-1 loss in Winnipeg, Lundqvist’s indecision on a dump-in left the puck sitting behind the goal – where defenseman Anton Stralman had taken the man and not the puck – and preceded a long Jets possession, a Rangers penalty and a Jets power play goal.
In the second period, though, Lundqvist flicked the puck around the boards from behind his net past a forechecking Jets forward to Marian Gaborik for a defensive-zone clear.
“I still need to improve, but I think it’s getting better,” Lundqvist said.

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