In the second game of a back-to-back, coach Alain Vigneault will go to backup Antti Raanta when the Rangers visit Montreal on Hockey Night In Canada. It’ll be his first start since 12/29 when he made 18 saves in a 6-3 win at Arizona. Raanta won his last two starts in December with victories over Ottawa and the Coyotes. In each, he allowed three goals while turning aside 51 of 57 shots.
There’s nothing wrong with having Raanta start against the Canadiens in a building starter Henrik Lundqvist has historically struggled. However, it’s not gonna help Lundqvist’s confidence following Friday’s disappointment. Somewhat curiously, Raanta is 2-0 in 3 appearances (2 starts) with a 2.30 goals-against-average and .927 save percentage (63 saves on 68 shots in 131 minutes).
By comparison, Lundqvist is 14-15-2 with a 2.77 GAA, .900 save percentage and two shutouts in 32 starts against Montreal. His last game at Bell Centre was a nightmare allowing five goals on 24 shots in 49 minutes. Granted. Every Blueshirt fan knows his history at the Canadiens. However, at some point he needs to get consistent playing time. Vigneault is messing around with a star player who has always done well when he gets more starts.
We’re now into mid-January and Lundqvist still is struggling with consistency. The 2.60 GAA and .910 save percentage would be career worsts. The Rangers are playing their 43rd game tonight. Lundqvist has only started 29 and appeared in 30. Vigneault has indicated he wants to keep him under 60 starts. That’s fine. But at what point will he let Hank play his way out of it?
After tonight, the Rangers are off the next two days before returning home to host the disappointing Stars. They will have five games left following Saturday’s big Original Six match-up. That also includes a return trip to Toronto 1/19 followed by a 1/22 visit at Detroit. Then a back-to-back at MSG against the Kings followed by the Flyers coming in on 1/25. Lundqvist needs to get into at least four of the five. The All-Star break follows. The Blueshirts finish the month at home against the Blue Jackets.
Vigneault also did an about face indicating he will play rookie Pavel Buchnevich again in the second game of a back-to-back. He feels the 21-year old Russian forward who returned from a bad back can handle it. His skill level is certainly a boost. Even in a 4-2 defeat, Buchnevich recorded an assist on J.T. Miller’s late goal. He also received over four minutes of power play time while being limited to 10:43 in 17 shifts.
Figure the lines to remain intact as should the defensive pairings. It’ll be interesting to see what former Habs’ first round pick Ryan McDonagh comes up with against the team that gave him away in the infamous Scott Gomez salary dump. The best trade of the Glen Sather era which also involved Chris Higgins, Pavel Valentenko and Tom Pyatt. Only Pyatt still plays in the NHL doing so in a supporting penalty kill role for Ottawa.
The Canadiens got good news with Alex Galchenyuk returning tonight along with pest Andrew Shaw. They have been up and down lately. After outscoring Winnipeg 7-4, they got hammered by the Wild 7-1. A game in which coach Michel Therrien left Carey Price in for all seven goals. Considering that they had a run in earlier this season when Therrien pulled Price at home during a period, I guess you could say that is a sensitive situation.
Known as the House of Horrors to Ranger fans, it has never treated our team kindly. However, Raanta got a win there and former backup now Edmonton starter Cam Talbot had success. It should be interesting to see how both teams respond coming off losses. Don’t forget Price has an amazing record on Saturday night’s on HNIC.
The puck is about to drop. We’ll see how it goes.