Having two quality goaltenders is a good thing, but the Rangers’ success with Antti Raanta highlights a significant issue.
In today’s NHL, goaltending depth is a must. Not only do you need a quality starter to have success, you’d better have a backup capable of handling things in case of an injury. Last year’s playoffs highlighted why having a tandem might be a better idea than having one goalie carry most of the workload. The Rangers should be thankful because they have an issue a lot of teams would kill to have — both of their goalies are very good.
Henrik Lundqvist is the best goalie in the NHL over the past decade. There’s a good argument for Tuukka Rask, but King Henrik has played in significantly more games. Factor in his high-danger save percentage of 83.30 (third best in the NHL since 2007-08) and Lundqvist has no peers over the past 10 years.
However, he’s been struggling lately. Maybe it’s a blip on the radar or perhaps time is starting to catch up to Lundqvist. Regardless of the cause, over his past seven games, his save percentage was below 90 four times. For a team like the Rangers who are looking to win a Stanley Cup sooner rather than later, they don’t have the time to let Lundqvist work his way out of this funk. Especially not with the entire Metropolitan Division playing very well as of late.
Thankfully, New York has Antti Raanta. After starting against the Winnipeg Jets and excelling, he shut out the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. Raanta followed with another shutout against the New Jersey Devils, putting him in some special company. Two consecutive regular season shutouts is something even Lundqvist hasn’t accomplished.
Theoretically, the blue shirts should be thrilled. Two quality goaltenders capable of carrying the team. Sure, you could argue Raanta has a small sample size, but he ranks in the top 20 in save percentage since the 2013-14 season. So it’s not like his success is a new thing. If there is such a thing as an elite backup goaltender, Raanta’s a prime example.
His success could even help Lundqvist. By the time the postseason comes around, most goalies start suffering from fatigue. Even the best goalie of the past 10 years isn’t immune to it. If Lundqvist only has to start, say, 50 games and Raanta can handle the rest, that’s a significant help to New York’s Stanley Cup chances. There’s nothing wrong with riding the hot hand. Keep in mind Lundqvist is 34 years old.
However, diving deeper into the numbers, the Rangers unquestionably play better in front of their backup. Adjusting for score, zone and venue, Raanta faces 54.41 shot attempts per 60 minutes during all situations. Meanwhile, Lundqvist faces 55.97. Also, their expected goals against at even strength are better with Raanta than King Henrik.
It’s an 11 game sample size, so maybe this is too small. But it’s undeniable the Rangers play better in front of Raanta than Lundqvist. This isn’t a huge red flag yet, but it could become one. Though Raanta has been very good, Lundqvist is still the Rangers’ number one goaltender.
The King has shown he can carry the team in the playoffs. But if the Rangers want to have success, they must play better in front of him. If they can clean things up in front of Lundqvist and play as well in front of him as they do with Raanta, New York’s “Stanley Cup or bust” approach might pay off. How do they do that? Head coach Alain Vigneault must figure this out. That’s why he gets paid the big bucks.
All stats are courtesy of Corsica.hockey