From Day One, there has been one consistent for Alain Vigneault in his tenure as head coach of the New York Rangers.
“This is the start of my fourth year,” Vigneault said after the Rangers’ 3-2 shootout win over the Devils Sunday night at the Garden. “As soon as I got here, I knew his preparation and his work ethic in practice. That’s why he was one of the best goaltenders in the league at that time and he continues to be. He just works at his game; he’s really focused, and he’s a great person.”
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Following an overblown, pseudo-goalie controversy due to Vigneault replacing Lundqvist with Antti Raanta for four straight games, the Rangers’ undisputed No. 1 goaltender has reclaimed his crease with a vengeance.
Lundqvist compiled a 3-0-0 record in three straight games between Dec. 15 and Dec. 18. In those games, he had a 0.98 goals against average, a 0.967 save percentage and a shutout.
“I saw the play happening pretty well throughout the three periods and overtime,” Lundqvist said after he made 29 saves in the 65 minutes between regulation and overtime, then turned away three of four Devils shooters in the skills competition.
“A couple times they made some good moves and surprised me a little. In overtime it was wide open. There were a couple big chances. I’m not sure what I think about 3-on-3. Sometimes it’s fun to watch but the structure and the way chances occur, it’s hard to read sometimes. You just have to be out there and battle and kind of hope for the best.”
This stretch arose from an eight-game window in which Lundqvist went 3-4-1 with a 3.04 GAA and .902 save percentage between Nov. 18 and Dec. 6. After the 4-2 loss to the Islanders at Barclays Center on Dec. 6, Vigneault made the decision to start Raanta in the four games spanning Dec. 8-13. The Rangers went 3-1-0 in those four games, and Raanta compiled a 0.33 GAA and .984 save percentage.
Even coming off a 7-2 loss to the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Penguins in Pittsburgh Tuesday night, Raanta has constructed an 8-3-0 record with a 2.10 GAA, .930 save percentage and two shutouts in 14 games.
Essentially, Vigneault has quality goaltending with his starter and backup.
“We have to win as a team. That’s what we’ve done basically since the beginning. Whether you want to call it balanced scoring, balanced defending, strong goaltending — we are built on a team basis,” Vigneault said after the win over the Devils.
“At the beginning of the season, as everyone remembers, we were scoring in bunches. Right now we are scoring one to two goals a game. We are finding ways to win those games. That’s the timely save, that’s the making the high-percentage play, not forcing something that is not there.
“We have to continue to do it as a team and that’s what we saw tonight.”