ARIZONA COYOTES

Coyotes’ Antti Raanta makes return, looks to stay in net for season’s end

Mar 17, 2018, 10:27 PM
Arizona Coyotes goaltender Antti Raanta (32) and defenseman Alex Goligoski (33) slide over to prote...
Arizona Coyotes goaltender Antti Raanta (32) and defenseman Alex Goligoski (33) slide over to protect the goal against a shot from Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Strome (18) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. The Coyotes defeated the Oilers 1-0. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Arizona Coyotes goaltender Antti Raanta made his return to the crease on Saturday night, doing so for the first time after a lower-body injury kept him out since March 3.

Arizona fell 3-1 to the Minnesota Wild, but he and his team are probably glad he’s back.

The Coyotes’ starting netminder has played just 40 of the team’s 71 games this year, his first in Arizona since coming over in a trade from the New York Rangers this summer. When he’s healthy, he’s been a big factor for the ‘Yotes; coming into Saturday’s game, he was fifth in the NHL in save percentage (.924) among goalies who have played 30 or more games. The Coyotes are 16-18-6 in games in which Antti Raanta made an appearance this season. Otherwise, they’re 7-19-5.

“That’s the big thing. I think everybody wants to be healthy all the time,” Raanta said. “When you have some minor injuries all the time, it kind of slows you down a little bit and it can be tougher, mental side. But I just try to think positive and try to work as hard as I can so hopefully there is no more injuries or anything else.”

Raanta is slated to became an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, and 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station‘s Craig Morgan reported that both sides are interesting in getting a deal done, rather than having the netminder test the free agent market.

For that reason, and it being the first year that Raanta is getting the No. 1 goalie responsibilities after having backed up Henrik Lundqvist and Corey Crawford in years prior, this season is a big one for Raanta. Even with his absences, he’s already exceeded his previous career high of 30 games played, which he set last year in New York.

The Coyotes have 11 games left, with two pairs of back-to-back games.

“Hopefully it’s a good learning experiment also for me to kind of listen to my body a little bit more and see what I can do differently and like that to stay healthy,” Raanta said. “There’s still lots of games left so hopefully we can get a few wins and end on a high note for sure.”

Arizona has played better as a team since the new year, going 14-10-6 since Jan. 1 after posting a 9-27-5 record through December. The Coyotes could build on their recent momentum by having Raanta back for what they hope is the rest of the season, which would solidify the goaltending duo of him and Darcy Kuemper, as coach Rick Tocchet described it.

In Saturday’s game against Minnesota, Raanta said he didn’t feel rusty.

“I felt pretty good all the time,” he said. “I think when the game went on I was reading the plays a little better. But we’ve been skating almost the whole time so I haven’t really been off the ice, so that helped a lot.”

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