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Coyotes’ Raanta out to prove he’s a No. 1 goalie in season’s second half

Arizona Coyotes goaltender Antti Raanta (32) makes the save on Nashville Predators left wing Viktor Arvidsson during the first period during an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Antti Raanta had plenty of motivation entering this week.

He knew he would be facing one of two fellow Finnish goalies — Pekka Rinne or Juuse Saros — when the Coyotes hosted the Nashville Predators on Thursday night. On Saturday, he’ll face his old team, the New York Rangers, for the first time since they traded him to Arizona this past summer.

Raanta, however, has a much bigger motivation. He wants to prove he can be a No. 1 goalie. A pair of lower-body injuries and a concussion has limited him to 21 of the Coyotes’ first 42 games. A hectic travel schedule has limited the time he’s had to work on the details of his game with goalie coaches Jon Elkin and Corey Schwab.

“I’m waiting for him to get into a rhythm,” general manager John Chayka said Tuesday. “I don’t think you can evaluate him until he gets into a rhythm.

“There have been some games, Colorado is one (a 3-1 win on Dec. 27) where I thought he played exceptionally well. I’m hoping now is that time when he can get on a roll and solidify things for us in net.”

Raanta is only under contract through this season. The Coyotes have 3½ months to evaluate whether they want to sign him to a long-term deal (Raanta has a say in that negotiation, too), or look elsewhere for a No. 1 goalie.

Raanta is 6-11-2 with a 2.82 goals against average (31st in the NHL) and a .915 save percentage (23rd). A look at his advanced statistics shows a minus-4.58 goals saved above average mark (56th in the NHL among all goalies with stats), a .788 save percentage on high-danger chances (40th), a .902 save percentage on medium-danger chances (50th), and a .974 save percentage on low-danger chances (39th).

There is work to do, and the January schedule, with its built in rest and practice time, affords Raanta the opportunity to get down to business.

“There have been a couple good breaks and a few good games but it’s still been pretty much a roller coaster season,” he said. “I haven’t been that consistent, what I want to be, and there’s been a few goals you want to get back.

“It’s not the greatest thing when you come after the game and tell you guys I should have [stopped] that. It’s always tough if you have to start making excuses. I just want to be consistent, want to be there for the team and if there are some bad breaks in the game I want to make the saves and help the team to stay in the game and hopefully win the game.”

Coach Rick Tocchet has stressed how much his young team has missed practice time and the opportunity it affords his staff to teach. Raanta is often an overlooked part of that equation.

“Antti, even when he came back, he didn’t have much practice time,” Tocchet said. “It’s hard as a goalie.”

With three days of practice before the game against the Predators, Raanta stopped 37 of 39 shots in a 3-2 overtime win.

“He has three days of practice and he plays well,” Tocchet said.

Raanta said he arrived at Gila River Arena on Thursday afternoon feeling renewed.

“I felt great,” he said. “After three days practicing and kind of talking with the boys, I kind of came to the rink like ‘I’m not ready to lose today.’ That was pretty much my mindset.”

Even when Nashville scored goals 17 seconds apart, spanning the second and third periods, to take a 2-1 lead, Raanta felt confident.

“After they scored the second goal you’re kind of like, ‘here we go again,’ but I just took a little sip of water and just said ‘hey, it’s a new year, it’s not time to quit in this game,'” he said. “I got good saves there and [did] what I want to do to help the team to stay in the game and to win the game.”

One of those saves was a post-to-post stop on Nashville’s Pontus Aberg at 8:21 of the third period to keep the Coyotes within a goal.

Raanta hopes to stack a lot more of those performances over the second half of the season.

“It’s a good challenge for me,” he said. “I feel like I’m ready to go and to get way more wins and way more saves than early in the season.”

Rangers at Coyotes

When: 6 p.m., Saturday

Where: Gila River Arena

TV: FOX Sports Arizona

Radio: 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station

Records: Coyotes — 10-27-5. Rangers — 21-14-5.

Injury/suspension report: Coyotes — D Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body) is day to day but is unlikely to play until after the team’s five-day break. F Brad Richardson (upper body) is day to day and could play. F Zac Rinaldo is suspended for two more games. Rangers — Chris Kreider (rib surgery) is out indefinitely.

Rangers scouting report: The Rangers could not fly to Arizona on Thursday as planned due to a massive storm that hit the Northeast. They practiced in New York on Friday and planned to fly to Phoenix later in the day. … New York entered play Friday in a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers will play 13 of their next 19 games on the road. … G Henrik Lundqvist is tied with Tony Esposito for eighth place on the NHL’s all-time wins list with 424. He is 10 behind Jacques Plante for seventh. … F Mats Zuccarello leads the team with 31 points (eight goals, 23 assists).

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