In case you missed it, and if you’re reading this you didn’t, Antti Raanta has been the starting goalie for the past three games. He’s won all three games, with the last two via shutout. Alain Vigneault seems content with riding the hot hand, which means Henrik Lundqvist –who has “struggled” this season– is riding pine.
There is a very vocal minority that thinks the Rangers should be starting Raanta going forward, even if/when Hank regains his Hank-like form. It is unlikely that happens, as Lundqvist will likely return to his starting role soon, but it’s still a possibility that Raanta continues to play well and get more starts.
All of this leads to whether or not there is a goalie controversy in New York. But to answer the question, perhaps we should do some actual digging into how the Rangers play with each goalie in net.
First and foremost, the Rangers do play a slightly different style in net when it’s Lundqvist or Raanta. It’s not a major system change, as they still play their hybrid overload/man coverage. The difference is subtle, and occurs in front of the net. When it’s Raanta in net, the Rangers have the defender in front playing behind the forward. When it’s Lundqvist, the defender plays in front of the forward. Subtle, but has an impact. Suit covered this two years ago when Cam Talbot was still here, and the Rangers still do this today.
To recap quickly: What the Rangers do with Lundqvist is called “fronting.” What they do with Raanta is called “net side positioning.” When fronting, it gives the defender a better angle to get in front of shots, shooting lanes, and passing lanes. However the weakness is that when shots get through, they are not in a position to take the body and clear rebounds. The opposite is true for net side positioning.
Which brings me to the types of shots each goalie faces. Tom Urtz Jr. did the leg work on this, so I’m going to leverage his tweets here:
5V5 HD Shots Faced
Lundqvist- 26 | Raanta- 11
— Tom Urtz Boooonier 👻 (@TomUrtzJr) December 12, 2016
For the sake of this post, I’m going to focus on the high danger (HD) shots first, before getting to the overall shot totals. These numbers are over the last three starts each for Lundqvist and Raanta. Raanta has faced less than half of the high danger shots that Hank has faced. Given the above, it makes sense. With the Rangers fronting and blocking fewer shots, more are getting through and forcing Hank to make multiple saves from in close.
In terms of overall shots faced, that is a significant drop off from Hank to Raanta. The defense appears to be tightening up over the last three games, although I’m willing to say that’s more coincidence than playing differently. Fronting will impact high danger shots, not overall shot totals.
This isn’t to say that Lundqvist is struggling because fronting isn’t working. This isn’t to say that Raanta is succeeding because the defense tightened up. It’s both. The defense is tightening up a lot, and it appears that perhaps fronting may not be working anymore. We won’t know until Lundqvist is back in net.
So the Rangers have won three straight with Raanta in net. But the Rangers have also played significantly better with Raanta in net. Until the Rangers start playing this strong with Lundqvist in net, we can’t properly evaluate if this is the beginning of the end for the King. More likely than not, Hank will rebound when the team starts executing better in front of him. But style of play has a role in execution. There are potentially many factors playing into the goalie situation right now, but Hank has history on his side. He rebounds to his usual self. He will this year too.