Ins and Outs of Rangers Superb Backup Antti Raanta
InGoal File Photos by Buren Foster
Antti Raanta is what Pekka Rinne would be if he played ten feet farther back.
It sounds ridiculous, right? Take away his aggressive depth, and you’ve taken away Pekka Rinne. It may not be a ten-foot difference, but there’s a decided variance in how far out the two Finnish netminders play – and doesn’t that separate them more than anything else?
Looking closer, though, Raanta shared a number of Rinne’s smaller, subtle idiosyncrasies in net.
He’s got an active glove hand, catching and covering the puck whenever he’s able. He’s also got a distinct post overlap to his lateral play, something that’s prevalent in Rinne’s game, even if it’s not what people think of first when they go to talk about the other Finnish netminder.
That depth difference isn’t entirely of his own volition, though.
When the New York Rangers came through Arizona, InGoal sat down with Raanta after the team’s 6-3 victory over the Coyotes. It wasn’t Raanta’s best game – not by a long shot. He knew it, too.
His last two goals against? “Bennie [Allaire] preaches a lot of staying off your heels, readying on your toes,” Raanta laughed. “Maybe if I had been doing that the last two goals, they don’t go in.”
Playing behind a long-tenured, well-known starter like Henrik Lundqvist, Raanta is the poster child for second fiddle. He’s the number two on a team that respects and reveres their number one, and that isn’t likely to change for a while.
With his affable ability to shake off a performance that needed improvements, though, Raanta is the perfect personality to have behind the quiet, intense Lundqvist; and so far this year, it’s been paying off for New York.
In 24 games last season, Raanta put up one shutout and a .919 save percentage. This year, he’s already appeared in 19 games but he’s doubled his number of shutouts and improved to a .921 save percentage. He’s managed to take some of the load off of Lundqvist, and the Rangers aren’t suffering for it.
Games like Thursday night’s against Arizona can be tough.
The Coyotes struggle not only to put shots on net, but to even enter the offensive zone, so Raanta is expected to remain on his toes through stretches of deserted ice on his end.
“Sometimes when you face more shots and lots of shots it keeps you in the game, keeps you fresh and focused,” Raanta admitted. “When you only face a shot or maybe two and then have lots of breaks, it’s a lot harder to keep yourself set and ready.”
Despite that, though, the whole team left in high spirits over a win – even Raanta.
Take Rinne, pull him back in his crease, then give him a healthy dosage of admiration for Lundqvist.
With a game reliant on reacting and feeling comfortable in his net, Raanta doesn’t always make the “pretty” save. His positioning is good but not textbook like Carey Price, his depth fair but not dramatic like his number one. He’s been learning from Lundqvist, though.
“I try to watch what he does, see what I could improve on,” Raanta said, “And [Benoit Allaire] has taken my game and just made it better.”
Raanta isn’t the biggest netminder in the NHL. As a matter of fact, he’s one of the smallest; he stands at just 6 feet even and under 200 lbs, making him “undersized” by today’s perceptions.
Because of that, he used to play farther out. Think … well, think Peter Budaj. Skates outside the blue paint on every shot, as Raanta attempted to make himself bigger.
Allaire has changed that.
At most, the coach has pulled Raanta back by a foot. It’s not an insignificant difference, but he didn’t pull him back to the goal line. He did pull him in, though.
“I’d say that the biggest difference is when I look down at the toe of my skate, I now see blue in front of it. A few inches of blue crease are in front of my skate now, [Allaire] told me that pulling in that little bit just gives me more control,’ Raanta said. “If someone tries to go back door and score it’s much easier to get back and protect your net if you’re inside your crease more.”
That’s huge. The era of aggressively challenging the shot brought plenty of quality tools for netminders to keep in their arsenal, but overly aggressive depth has started to phase out for the very reasons that Raanta knows to pull in more now. He’s worked a bit on tracking, too, making sure to track both the play and the puck – but that shift in depth really has been key.
Something is different about Raanta this season.
It’s not his pads. He’s stuck with Brian’s for a myriad of reasons; he likes the softer core as opposed to the stiffer Bauer OD1Ns Lundqvist wears, which make it a little easier to feel the ice. Raanta prefers that bit of cushioning – he doesn’t need to feel the dramatic connect with the rink surface every time he drops.
He tried the new, razor-thin design used by Lundqvist, and decided the familiarity of Brian’s was something he wanted to stick with.
Rather, it’s his skates.
Last season, Raanta told InGoal, he was one of the slew of netminders who tried out the new Bauer Supreme skate without a cowling. After a few goes, he opted to finish the season with his old skates.
Over the summer, though, he worked in the 1S design so he’d be ready to use it in the fall.
He’s now skating without a cowling full-time.
“It took some getting used to for sure,” he said. “The balance is totally different, the weight is a little different. It’s about getting comfortable in the new skate so where you were with your old skates is how you feel again.”
Some struggle to switch into new gear, especially skates, even if the improvements are proven. But as Raanta said, it’s hard not to try out all the new gear when you play in the NHL, and luckily the new skate design (which Lundqvist has been using since last season as well) is one that worked out for him.