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Lundqvist fastest to 400; How Allaire spotted greatness early

When Henrik Lundqvist posted his 400th NHL win against the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday, the New York Rangers star reached the milestone faster than any other goaltender in NHL history.

Lundqvist only needed 727 games to reach 400 wins, fewer than Martin Brodeur (735), Chris Osgood (742), and Jacques Plante and Patrick Roy (753). The speed with which Lundqvist reached the milestone sparked renewed debate about his omission from NHL’s recent top-100 list, and questions about whether he already belonged on the Mount Rushmore of goaltenders alongside Brodeur (691 career wins), Roy (551 wins) and Hasek (390 wins), who Lundqvist passed in early December to become the top European goaltender on the wins list.

Here at InGoal Magazine, however, Lundqvist’s record ascension to 400 NHL wins reminded us of another speed-related assessment from his goaltending coach in New York, Benoit Allaire:

“What I see with guys that can be top top goalies in the League they can make adjustments so fast,” Allaire told InGoal in the 2008-09 season, Lundqvist’s fourth in the NHL. “With Henrik I saw in the first year – the first month – that he can do it right away. It’s like Tiger Woods changing his backswing. Henrik did the same thing, just made the adjustment. You can see the skill like a Tiger. He’s got it. If I will ask him to do something else he will do it too. And you know those guys are so good to translate that information, to do it right away, that they can have success right away. Only the top guys have got that.”

Henrik Lundqvist and Benoit Allaire talk things through at practice (InGoal file photo)

The change that Allaire, who no longer does formal media interviews, was referring to was the deeper positioning, goal line-out approach that quickly became a staple of Lundqvist’s game in the NHL. That wasn’t at all how Lundqvist, who was picked in the seventh round, 205th overall, by the Rangers at the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, played the position back in Sweden, where he won three straight goalie of the year awards before coming over to the NHL at age 23.

“When I came over I was very aggressive, which you need to be in Sweden,” Lundqvist told InGoal earlier in his career. “I played top of the crease all the time.”

Lundqvist said the “first couple of weeks it was tough” to adjust to the conservative initial depth tactics Allaire had used to successfully transform past pupils like Nikolai Khabibulin and Sean Burke while with the Phoenix Coyotes. But by the end of his first month in the NHL, Lundqvist looked comfortable and well on his way to the first of a record seven straight 30-win seasons to start a career, a run broken only by the lockout-shortened season in 2013.

Along the way there have been other, well-documented adjustments in Lundqvist’s approach over the years, and just as there is something all goalies can learn from Allaire’s original assessment about adjusting quickly, there are lessons in the work ethic that play a big role in his ability to adapt. senior writer Dan Rosen did a great job outlining Lundqvist’s incredible intensity and work ethic when he talked to some of his former backup goaltenders for a recent story that is well worth the read (click here), including this nugget from Steve Valiquette:

“When I got on the ice with Henrik for the first time it was a day after a game he played,” Valiquette said, “and we go through practice where I’m dying, dead, practice is over and I’ve taken a lot of shots after practice, but Hank is not getting off the ice. He’s still taking breakaways, still working. I remember thinking to myself, ‘How am I ever going to catch this guy when he’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen?'”

It’s a great lesson for young goalies who see stars like Lundqvist and Carey Price and think “it looks so easy for them.” That’s usually because they work so hard when no one is looking.

Several of the original changes implemented by Allaire, including the upright stance, high glove and inside-out movements patterns, remain staples for Lundqvist. (InGoal photo by Kevin Woodley)

It’s a big part of what has put the 34-year-old Lundqvist 12th on the all-time wins list so quickly. He should move into the top-10 ahead of Osgood (401), Grant Fuhr (403) and maybe even Glenn Hall (407) before the season is over. As for some of the recent arguments the only thing preventing Lundqvist from being higher on that list already and maybe having a shot at catching Brodeur for top spot, was coming over to the NHL so late, not so fast.

In addition to the confidence Lundqvist gained winning a third-straight top goalie award in a Swedish League full of NHL players during the 2004-05 lockout, there would have been one key ingredient missing had he joined the Rangers sooner: Allaire was still with the Coyotes.

As much as Lundqvist’s ability to adjust immediately made him a likely star in the eyes of the Rangers goalie coach, it’s hard to believe he would have ascended so fast without Allaire.

About The Author

Kevin Woodley

Kevin Woodley is a rec-league target and former contributing editor of the Goalie News magazine. He has written about the Vancouver Canucks and NHL for The Associated Press, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and The Hockey News for the last decade, and covered the 2010 Olympics for The AP.

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