If Henrik Lundqvist is King Henrik, then Antti Raanta is Prince Raanta. That’s what I’ve been calling him lately. All he does is play well in net. With Lundqvist missing another game, Raanta made his eighth consecutive start and pitched his career best fourth shutout of the season. He blanked the Kings 3-0 to win a career best 16th game.
It’s Raanta who has two more shutouts than Lundqvist this season. It’s also the Fresh Finnish Prince who has a better goals-against-average and save percentage. Where would this team be without him? My guess is they’d be struggling just to make it fighting among the Bruins, Islanders, Lightning and even the resurgent Hurricanes <gasp>.
When the Steven McDonald Award is presented in April, Raanta will be one of the prime candidates. Along with J.T. Miller and Michael Grabner, the popular backup goalie is among the favorites to win the Extra Effort Award.
In a game they were out-shot 30-20 and out-attempted 70-41, it didn’t matter. The Rangers do what they always seem to do. Win on the road. Win when giving up more shots. It’s why I don’t put much stock in Corsi. This team never does anything the easy way. If they did, they’d win more consistently at home and win when outplaying opponents which means out-shooting them. It’s not in their DNA.
This game marked the return of Dan Girardi. After missing 12 games with a bad ankle, he was back on the top pair with sidekick Ryan McDonagh. The veteran right defenseman showed some rust as expected. He had three giveaways but got stronger in a steadier third period in which the Black & Blueshirt sacrificed his body to block a pair of shots while on the penalty kill. He also took a hit along the boards to make a play that led to Rick Nash’s empty netter which sealed it. That effort rewarded him with an assist and plus-one in 20:03.
There were moments where Girardi and McDonagh were pinned in for long stretches. One such instance occurred during the second period when they and the top line couldn’t get the puck out against the Jeff Carter line. Mats Zuccarello made a diving block and clear but the Kings got it back in forcing Girardi and McDonagh to stay out for about two straight minutes. They bent but didn’t break with Raanta making one key stop to get a stoppage.
But in a game that brought them two points closer to another playoff berth, the Rangers were opportunistic. They were able to combat the Kings’ heavy forecheck with speed and skill. One such play occurred when Zuccarello was able to set up Brendan Smith for a shot that rebounded out to Derek Stepan, who put it home for his 14th at 13:02. It had to feel especially good for Stepan, who leads the team in shots (193) but has had no luck. If it’s any consolation, Zuccarello paces the team in scoring with 54 points and ranks second in shots (186). He has 15 goals but leads the club with 39 assists including a pair tonight to overtake J.T. Miller for the team lead in scoring.
Speaking of Miller, he was reunited with Kevin Hayes and Michael Grabner on the cohesive third line. Grabner got some quality chances including a breakaway but missed the net. He also was denied point blank by Jonathan Quick. The former Conn Smythe winner is now on a declining team that will miss the postseason for the second time in three years. One that can’t score. They rank 25th in scoring averaging 2.40 goals-per-game. Astonishingly, the Kings are in the top five in average shots (31.4). You get the idea.
How bad is it? Anze Kopitar has only 11 goals in 68 games but ranks second in team scoring behind Carter (31-30-61). Tanner Pearson ranks second in goals with 23. He’s one of the few bright spots because he’s a young player improving. Tyler Toffoli has been miserable and Marian Gaborik looks finished. Dustin Brown has as many goals (11) as Kopitar.
If you can’t score, you can’t win consistently. That’s why the Kings find themselves 11 points behind the Flames and nine behind the Blues for the wildcard. LA has eight games left. They’re not running the table. There are big question marks surrounding them. Will Darryl Sutter be fired? He’s a superb coach who won two Cups, squeezing as much as he could out of a core that needs to be revamped.
As for the Rangers, they’re now up to 96 points closing in on the century mark with seven games remaining. A power play goal by McDonagh off a face-off from Mike Zibanejad early in the third gave them breathing room. Zuccarello helped set it up. MSG thought it was Zibanejad’s goal but it deflected off a King, giving McDonagh his sixth. A nice reward for the captain.
Chris Kreider took some ill advised penalties. One wasn’t his fault. He was somehow called for goalie interference despite being pushed in by Derek Forbort, who roughed him up along with an ornery Quick, who went after Oscar Lindberg too. How Kreider wound up with that penalty was mind boggling. It was even up. Quick of course got nothing. What would you expect from a hypocritical league that turns away whenever the golden prince Sidney Crosby gets away with dirty stuff that would have other players fined and suspended?
Even with Kreider doing his best to give the Kings a chance, it didn’t matter. The Kings couldn’t put the puck in the ocean. The end result was predictable. The Rangers improved to 27-9-1 away from MSG. They upped their mark to 28-6-1 when out-shot by opponents. This is who they are. An odd team that at least can win on the road.
BONY 3 Srars:
3rd Star-Mats Zuccarello, NYR (2 assists, 2 blocked shots, +1 in 19 shifts-17:07)
2nd Star-Derek Stepan, NYR (goal-14th of season, 5 SOG, 7 attempts, +1 in 21 shifts-16:16)
1st Star-Antti Raanta, NYR (30 saves, 4th shutout of season, career best 16 wins)
Dan Girardi talks about getting back in:
Goalscorer Derek Stepan assesses the team’s performance: