GOALTENDING: AAA. Lights out. Phenomenal.
Give Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire credit: Henrik Lunqvist came in hot, near the top of his game and Antti Raanta’s absorption into his role as the Rangers’ alternate goalie has been executed flawlessly.
Alain Vigneault made it abundantly clear that he wanted more, sooner out of the Rangers premier goaltending talent, Henrik Lundqvist and Lundqvist has delivered. Through eight starts, he has been nothing short of phenomenal, posting a .941SV% and limiting opponents to 1.98 goals-per-game (GPG). His record (4-2-2) is more reflective of the team’s hot-or-cold start than his own. The performance he turned in against Montreal on 10/15 is a prime example: Lundqvist stopped 29/31 shots against, stood tall through six Montreal power plays and repeatedly flashed what appears to be an improved glove-hand stopping breakaways and odd-man rushes all night. Montreal pushed the issue glove-side high all night – an area where Lundqvist, like many european goaltenders has been weak in the past – and he wasn’t beaten that way. Carey Price was sharper that night against a less potent Rangers offense, but Lundqvist showcased his game and it was impressive.
Five days earlier, he made what is already one of his top-five saves of the season against Columbus to preserve what was then a 3-0 NYR lead:
Lundqvist, who will turn 34 years old in March is locked in and as prepared as ever for the 2015-16 campaign, but what about his backup?
Many in Rangerstown lamented the loss of former alternate goaltendier, Cam Talbot. When a poorly translated quote regarding a lack of ice time during the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup run last season made its way into the New York media pool, Antti Raanta (whose personality seems about as offensive as lavender hand lotion) was automatically tagged with a fond NYC welcome: “who is THIS f***in’ guy?!”
Clearly, it didn’t faze him much.
Raanta is 2-0 and rocking a .978SV% and a .50GAA. This isn’t “Ginger Skaps” McKenzie Skapski going 2-0 in back to back starts against one of the worst teams in the league, either. AV put Raanta’s feet to the fire straight off, challenging him with his first start as a Ranger on home ice against the San Jose Sharks after three straight losses with the Rangers very much in need of a win. Raanta summarily shut San Jose out, and proceeded to allow only one goal in his next start against the Calgary Flames.
Antti Raanta is here to play and he’s going to get his share of starts. This season’s schedule features 17 back-to-back sets for the Rangers – five of them coming down the middle of a brutal stretch run in March, when competition for playoff berths is as intense as it gets. Vigneault will reduce Lundqvist’s regular season workload incrementally over the next few years, so Raanta will pick up spot-starts as well as splits off the b-2-b’s. So far, it looks like Talbot’s replacement is every bit the backstop the “Goalbuster” is and has demonstrated early success in being a skid-breaker.
This tandem needs to stay strong, stay loose and keep communicating.