The Rangers took a risk by shipping out established netminder Cam Talbot in the offseason and replacing him with Antii Raanta, but so far the Rangers look very smart for doing so.
Raanta, who in 14 games with the Blackhawks last season put up a strong .936 save percentage and a 1.89 GAA, has been nearly unbeatable for the Blueshirts this year. He is 3-0-0 with a .976 save percentage and a microscopic GAA of 0.67 to begin the season. His first start came against the then red-hot Sharks on Oct. 19, and he posted a 22-save shutout. After allowing just one goal to the Flames in a 4-1 win on Oct. 25, Raanta picked up another win by holding the Coyotes to just one goal despite facing 40 shots on Nov. 7. He almost had another shutout that evening, but the Coyotes broke it up with just four seconds to go.
Talbot, who was dealt to the Oilers for draft picks on the day of the NHL Draft, put up a .931 save percentage and a 2.00 GAA in 57 games as a Ranger over two seasons, and filled in admirably when Henrik Lundqvist was injured last season. But the Rangers knew that Talbot was going to demand more money and realized they couldn’t afford to keep both him and Lundqvist, so they decided to part with Talbot preemptively.
And they are glad they did, as Talbot has really struggled in the early going with Edmonton; he is 3-7-0 this year with a .893 save percentage and a 3.00 GAA.
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The Rangers acquired Raanta from the Blackhawks for a minor leaguer, and at just a $750,000 cap hit (Talbot currently makes $1.45 million annually), Raanta has paid off dividends.
“We need a goaltender who can give us around 20 games and…can win us some games,” Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault told reporters last week. “And there’s no doubt that in the small sample size, he’s been good.”
Raanta has also earned the confidence of his teammates.
“We didn’t know much about him coming in,” center Derick Brassard told the media after the game on Nov. 7. “[But] he’s showing us he can play and we can be confident with him.”
Lundqvist remains the undisputed No. 1 goaltender in New York, but Raanta has established himself to be a competent backup, and that will ease the mind of Vigneault on days when Lundqvist needs rest. And if the Rangers want to make it back to the Stanley Cup Final, they can’t afford to have an exhausted Lundqvist.
All three of Raanta’s starts have come in the second game of a back-to-back occurrence, and with 14 back-to-backs left to go, Raanta is sure to see plenty of ice time. The next back-to-back comes this weekend, with the Rangers visiting the Senators for a Saturday afternoon tilt followed by a home game with the Maple Leafs on Sunday.