The Rangers Need to Trust Antti Raanta

When Antti Raanta gave up nine goals in two games, there was plenty of concern out of Ranger fans, over the Finish goaltenders ability to give the team a chance to win. In the last contest against the Maple Leafs, he was back to his usual, steady self, leading the club to a 4-2 victory, and securing The Broadway Hat (team gift, awarded to key player after every win) in the process.

Heading down the stretch to the playoffs, it will be tempting to play starter Henrik Lundqvist every game, but the team will need to avoid following that urge, and get number 30 some rest for what the team hopes will be a deep post-season run. After a good outing against Toronto, the Rangers need to keep Raanta’s confidence high, and trust him even if the opponent is tough.

The Long Break

After the loss to the Kings, Raanta looked devastated in the post-game interview, and it was hard not to feel bad for him.”I was really nervous in the first couple of periods, and I couldn’t play my own game. I was moving too much, I wasn’t set when the shot was coming, and it was more about just going down and hopefully it hits you.” Prior to the game against the Kings, Raanta had last played against the Washington Capitals on January 17th. Before that start, he only played 5:19 in a relief effort in Nashville back on December 28th.

When you consider the layoff Raanta had between starts, it’s easy to see why he looked so sloppy throughout the evening. Despite not being sharp the goalie also couldn’t catch a break; with the Rangers leading late against the Kings, a freak shot from Anze Kopitar ended up in the back of the net, off the chest of defender Kevin Klein, and it was clear that the goal zapped whatever confidence that he had left.

The toughest goal of the night, came in overtime, when Tanner Pearson sniped one past him short side.

From the Ashes

After two really tough outings, it seemed like Raanta had hit rock bottom. He still looked a bit rattled to start the game in Toronto, but as the night drew on, you could see him start to get more comfortable in the net. He would be the spine of the team, making 35 saves in the process, and out dueling Jonathan Bernier, who only saw 19 shots. Now to be clear, this was not some cake-walk outing for the net-minder. The Rangers were slow throughout the game, and handed Toronto five power-plays, but Raanta stood tall and didn’t get rattled despite another funny bounce, and another late tally. Rangers’ defenseman Marc Staal explained that Raanta was the reason they won the game.

My Take

Raanta is about as upbeat of a player as there is. To start the season he was great going 4-0-0, and showing that he had what it took the be the guy behind Lundqvist. He wasn’t really bad right after those four wins though, in the next two starts he only allowed two goals in each, and on December 11th in Edmonton, in relief of Lundqvist, he gave up one goal on three shots. It was the game against the Calgary Flames where things started getting sloppy; in that game he allowed five goals on 27 shots, the next full game he played was against Washington on December 28th, where he allowed four goals on 23 shots.

Being a back-up goalie, is one of the toughest jobs in hockey, there’s a ton of pressure to be good, despite long stretches of time where the player is just watching the game. We see skaters throughout the season go through slumps, but they have the benefit of playing out of it, another great thing for the skater is that their mistakes can be covered up by teammates, where a goalies mistakes almost always end up in the back of the net. Now I’m not saying to throw the plan out the window, and start Raanta every other game, but the team can’t let him go through another stretch like that without playing. The Rangers need to start getting Lundqvist some rest, and now that Raanta, has shown that he still has the ability to make the big save, the team should feel comfortable with putting him in the cage against anyone; so it appears that Alain Vigneault can stick with the plan he had on February 8th.