Why the Rangers' goaltending woes are destined to continue

by
Adam Hunger / USA TODAY Sports

Over the past decade, few teams have enjoyed as much consistency between the pipes as the New York Rangers.

With Henrik Lundqvist long cemented as the No. 1 - while supported by a string of solid backups - the Rangers rode their goaltending to the playoffs in 11 out of the past 12 seasons.

However, this year is different.

Lundqvist's declining ability has been evident over the past two campaigns, and he's looked even shakier so far in the new season, posting an ugly goals-against average (3.06) and save percentage (.898) through four appearances.

Sure, it's still early, but the Rangers' blue paint is a mess for the first time in over a decade.

Here's why those issues could linger throughout this season, and perhaps beyond.

Pavelec isn't the high-caliber backup they're used to

First it was Cam Talbot. Then came Antti Raanta. And now, it's Ondrej Pavelec's turn to be Lundqvist's backup.

But while Talbot and Raanta had elite potential - and both eventually became No. 1 netminders - the same cannot be said for Pavelec.

The 30-year-old was signed to a one-year contract during the offseason with the hope he could step into the starting role if Lundqvist struggled or got hurt.

But if Pavelec's last two seasons and the start to this one are any indication, his days as a reliable goalie are finished. He posted less-than-stellar numbers over his last two campaigns with the Winnipeg Jets, registering a 17-17-4 record along with an awful save percentage (.901) and goals-against average (2.92).

Between those numbers and the fact Pavelec looked lost in his lone relief appearance to begin this season, it's becoming more apparent that he can't be the steady presence the Rangers need in their No. 2.

Too much cash tied up in Lundqvist

The chances of remedying this scenario with a trade involving Lundqvist are slim to none, largely due to his age and hefty remaining salary.

Lundqvist, 35, is under contract until the end of the 2020-21 season, and is owed a whopping $8.5 million per year.

That's not to say the Rangers have any plans to move their longtime goaltender, but it would be difficult to pull off if they wanted to, as they'd have to find a trade partner with a ton of cap space and optimism that Lundqvist can recapture his Vezina-level form.

Those teams will be few and far between, so there's certainly no easy fix on the trade front.

The King can't stay healthy

Perhaps the biggest concern surrounds Lundqvist's inability to play a full slate of games.

King Hank hasn't played more than 65 contests in a single season since the 2010-11 campaign. He's also dealt with worrisome knee issues - most recently this summer, when he sprained his MCL during the World Championship.

While Lundqvist is supposedly fully healthy and should still have enough gas left in the tank to compete for another season or two, a 35-year-old goalie with a history of knee problems is hard to count on day in and day out.

Lundqvist's early struggles, injury history, and his contract - along with the lack of a reliable backup - certainly don't bode well for New York's goaltending situation moving forward.

(Photos courtesy: Action Images)