TORONTO – New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist had a grin ear to ear in the first period that was visible through his mask. But he was only saving face.
Lundqvist had a rough start on Saturday, giving up five goals on 17 shots in the opening 20 minutes en route to an 8-5 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He started the second period watching from the bench as back up Ondrej Pavelec did his best to give his team a chance to come back.
The Rangers are now 0-2-0 to start the season after a 4-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche in their season opener.
“First period was just embarrassing. Obviously not what you’re looking for in your second game,” said the 35-year-old former Vezina Trophy winner.
“I need to be better. Just a period where they were just all over us. No structure really in our own end and I wasn’t able to come up with enough saves.”
Three Toronto goals in a little over six minutes blew the game open. Leafs fans followed up the barrage with a Bronx cheer when Lundqvist made a save on the next rush down the ice.
So he raised his hand to acknowledge the crowd with the puck in his glove, and wasn’t thrilled to be questioned about it after the game.
“Wasn’t it obvious? The (fans) were all cheering,” said Lundqvist.
Lundqvist wasn’t the only one on his team at fault at Air Canada Centre, with his Rangers continuously turning over the puck, most notably when the Leafs had their forecheck working behind his net.
“We played pond hockey in the first,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault.
Lundqvist made some highlight-reel saves to keep the game from getting even further out of hand than the 5-2 Leafs edge on the scoreboard at intermission. But he still tried to take as much of the responsibility as he could for his team’s performance.
“For me, it was a couple goals where you make a save, try being in the right place and they come right back at you,” said Lundqvist.
“It was a tough one, gave up five goals in one period, not going to try and look for excuses. I need to be better even though it was a tough period to play.”
Lundqvist allowed three goals on 25 shots against Colorado on Thursday. His save percentage in two starts this season is just .810. His career save percentage was .921 before meeting the Avalanche and Leafs.
“Personally I have to look at this one quickly and move on,” said Lundqvist.
“As a goalie it’s definitely easier when you have structure in front, but you have to step up as a goalie and find a way and I wasn’t able to do it. Just have to look in the mirror and be better.”
The 2006 Olympic gold medallist with Sweden is coming off his worst regular season statistically in 12 years with the Rangers, and New York is relying on him to prove last season was just a one-off and that age is not starting to work against him.
A strong season would see Lundqvist reach some career milestones. He entered the year 10th all-time in wins with 405 and could move up as far as seventh if he hits his annual average of 33. He’s also 58 games away from reaching 800.