2017 Playoff Preview, Round 2: Henrik Lundqvist vs Craig Anderson
Craig Anderson’s emotionally moving season continues on into the 2nd round, where his Ottawa Senators face a showdown with Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers.
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Lundqvist and the Rangers come up against the Ottawa Senators after dropping the Montreal Canadiens and Carey Price in 6 games. The Rangers defense withstood a strong possession series from the Habs, and avoided many of the breakdowns and net front self-deflections that had contributed to some of Lundqvist’s perceived struggles during the regular season. Were it not for late game Montreal heroics in Game 2, the Rangers might have prevailed in 5 games.
Although Lundqvist’s regular season suggested a vulnerability along the ice, this was hardly evident in Round 1. Alexei Emelin and Brendan Gallagher were able to score from mid-range high on his glove side; Ottawa will certainly look to create these kind of opportunities off of the rush and through Erik Karlsson’s mobility. Lundqvist’s goal chart suggests a vulnerability around the edges of his hands, which Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone were both able to exploit in the final regular season meeting between the two teams.
In the opening series, the Canadiens repeatedly tried to throw pucks to the net and fight for “greasy” goals, but Lundqvist’s low net coverage was impeccable. His conservative depth and patience on his edges seem to enhance his playoff performances, when bounces become less predictable and clean shots are harder to come by. He is relentless in scrambles, and has a knack for getting some body part on the puck in the midst of chaos, even while losing his stick multiple times a game.
The Canadiens weren’t able to establish a consistent net front presence against New York, which was also a departure from the regular season. Ottawa was able to take advantage of the Bruins depleted defensive corps. If they can do the same against the healthier, but still questionable New York defense, offensive deflections from just outside the crease like this one by Jean-Gabriel Pageau could be a significant factor in the series.
Another area in which Lundqvist unexpectedly excelled during Round 1 was his puckhandling. Usually suspect, Lundqvist was reliable playing dump-ins. He didn’t commit any significant gaffes, and made several smart decisions to disrupt the Montreal forecheck.
Lundqvist remains among the most difficult goalies to score on in the postseason, and the longer a series goes, the stingier he gets. Ottawa fans hoping that Lundqvist will have a mental letdown after a series against Carey Price shouldn’t get their hopes up. Reports of the King’s demise were greatly exaggerated.
It seems unnecessary to mention Craig Anderson’s wife Nicholle’s battle with cancer every time his name comes up, but it has been something of a central narrative for the NHL this season. Anderson himself has welcomed the investment of fans throughout the league in his family’s story, and his performance down the stretch in the regular season helped the Sens climb to a 2nd-place finish in the Atlantic Division. His strong play continued through the first round of the playoffs, as the Senators and Bruins played six games that were decided by one goal apiece, with Ottawa winning three of four overtime finishes.
Like Lundqvist, Anderson is an entertaining goalie to watch. Unlike Lundqvist, the entertainment factor comes from an aggressive positioning approach. He isn’t exactly a gambler, but he will often challenge outside the crease and rely on instinctive recovery skills if things don’t go as simply as planned.
Anderson is certainly capable of dramatic saves in difficult and desperate situations. He can also have trouble with rebound control on straight shots, and his routine recoveries can border on desperation, with mixed outcomes.
As his goal chart suggests, Anderson has some vulnerability high on his glove side, and low along the outer margins of his leg pads. The latter is at least partially the result of suboptimal post integration. Although he tends to remain active on his skates against the posts, he can be undisciplined with puck movement behind the net or on low angle chances.
Anderson is fully capable of stealing a game or two during the series, like Lundqvist, but the Senators defensemen are going to have to make sure that they account for the Rangers’ Rick Nash. Nash spent a good deal of the first round attacking Carey Price from below the face-off circles. If he’s allowed to do the same to Anderson, those post coverage techniques will become a front and center problem.
Head to Head:
Anderson notched a 33-save, 2-0 shutout in New York on November 27 against Anntti Raanta. The Rangers came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Senators on December 27, in a duel of the backups between Raanta and Mike Condon. Lundqvist and Anderson finally faced each other on April 8. The Senators downed the Rangers 3-1, with the Rangers’ only goal coming late in the 3rd period.
Should the teams’ second goalies be forced into action, the Rangers likely hold a mild edge with Anntti Raanta, despite Mike Condon’s solid play during Anderson’s absences this season.