Henrik Lundqvist is scheduled for his seventh straight start and 16th in the Rangers’ first 19 games Wednesday in Chicago. Unless something unforeseen develops, he can be expected to get the call again Friday when the Rangers play at Columbus.
This workload is a function of both a light schedule, in which the Rangers haven’t had a back-to-back since Oct. 13-14, and of the King’s improved play. Lundqvist has recorded a .913 save percentage and 2.66 goals-against average in the current six-game winning streak and has gone .919 and 2.38 over his past five matches.
“That’s the one thing we mentioned before the start of the season, that we didn’t want to put out a fixed number of games,” coach Alain Vigneault said following Tuesday’s practice. “We really wanted to go with the schedule, and this is a schedule that’s permitting him to play.
“Obviously it’s not easy for [backup Ondrej Pavelec]. He’s going to get his games, but right now the schedule says Hank, and it’s been good. It’s permitted him to play better and obviously when Hank plays better, we play better.”
This is not an unusual pace for Lundqvist. Indeed, the Swede started 15 of the first 19 last season before finishing with 55 starts. He started 16 of the first 20 in both 2015-16 and in 2014-15. He had 64 starts in 2015-16 and 46 in 2014-15, the year he was sidelined for nearly two months the aftermath of being struck in the throat with a shot. Lundqvist started 15 of the first 20 in Vigneault’s first season behind the bench in 2013-14.
Upon returning from this trip, the Rangers have five games in 10 days and seven in 17 until their first of nine remaining back-to-backs, which opens up in Washington on Dec. 8 and concludes the following night at the Garden against the Devils.
The Rangers last won as many as seven straight in going 9-0 two years ago from Oct. 25 through Nov. 15 in their 14-2-2 getaway.
“We’ve had a great run here, but because of our start we’re not in a great position,” Lundqvist said. “So it’s important that we understand the importance of the next six games and the games after that. I’m happy that we put this streak together because we were putting ourselves in the race, but we’re still not in a great spot.
“But we are doing a lot of good things and that brings a lot of confidence to the group.When you have that, it’s easier to make good decisions under pressure and make better reads. Guys are coming up with big plays at the right time.”
The Rangers have outscored their opponents 26-16 throughout the winning streak, but have been outscored 14-12 at five-on-five. They have an 8-2 edge on specialty teams(allowing one power-play goal and one shorthanded goal); 2-0 in three-on-three overtimes; and 4-0 on empty-netters.
Ranked third in the NHL at 25.8 percentage efficiency on the power play through Monday’s games, the Rangers are 6-for-12 in their past four games and 9-for-23 over their past seven matches. They have killed 13-of-14 during the streak.
Filip Chytil has missed the AHL Wolf Pack’s past three games with a stomach ailment similar to the one that sidelined Boo Nieves with the Rangers, but the 18-year-old rookie pro (three goals, six assists in eight contests) is expected to play in Wednesday’s home match against Bridgeport.