The Coyotes have found their No. 1 goaltender, and then some

Mar 31, 2018, 10:44 PM | Updated: Apr 1, 2018, 3:42 pm
Arizona Coyotes goaltender Antti Raanta (32) makes the save in front of St. Louis Blues defenseman ...
Arizona Coyotes goaltender Antti Raanta (32) makes the save in front of St. Louis Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo in the third period during an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 31, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Antti Raanta isn’t dwelling on what might have been. The rest of Coyotes Nation may take a little longer to reach that Zen-like state after watching Raanta stonewall the St Louis Blues at every turn on Saturday at Gila River Arena.

Raanta stopped all 34 St. Louis shots for his third shutout of the season and the Coyotes got goals from four defenseman for the first time since Oct. 26, 2013 (Edmonton) to post their most lopsided win of the season, 6-0 against the previously red-hot Blues.

Since Jan. 1 among goalies who have played at least 20 games, Raanta owns the best save percentage (.938), the best goals against average (1.94) and he is tied for the second-most shutouts (3) in the league. For the entire season, he is second in save percentage (.929) and second in goals against average (2.27) among goalies who have played at least 40 games.

If you haven’t figured out where we’re going with this thread, it’s simple. If Raanta had played 10-15 more games this season, he’d be in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie — the finalist conversation — and the Coyotes might have been playing more meaningful games.

“Of course you would have hoped that you could play 60, 65 games this year but with a couple injuries, the concussion and the car accident that took the 10 or so games that are missing,” said Raanta, who has played 45 games. “It’s just nice to have a winning record and to be playing good every night.

“That’s going to help for the future and that was the biggest thing coming into this season was to show that I could be consistent and play at a high level.”

If there were any lingering doubts, they should be erased: The Coyotes have found their No. 1 goaltender. The offseason should be spent on finding ways to keep him healthy and, of course, signing the unrestricted-free-agent-to-be. There are no better options available.

In a 6-0 win, the performance of a goaltender might not be noteworthy aside from the shutout, but Raanta had to make several grade-A saves against the Blues, who are fighting for their playoff lives and entered the game with a 9-2-2 record in their past 13 games.

The best of those came when he stopped Blues leading scorer Brayden Schenn from his belly at 17:49 of the second period, after stopping two prior shots in the same goal-mouth scrum.

“I felt probably the first shot and after that it was just a scramble,” he said. “When I was laying on my belly I didn’t even know where the puck was any more. Our guys were doing a great job at the net when I was swimming there.”

Saturday was a feel-good night for the Coyotes, who got a goal from Jakob Chychrun on his 20th birthday, a goal and an assist from Oliver Ekman-Larsson, a goal from Zac Rinaldo and three assists from Dylan Strome to give him six points in seven games since his recall.

“St. Louis is probably one of the hottest team for the last month or so,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said. “It was a complete effort.”

It all started with the goaltender who, in eight March starts, is 7-1 and has stopped 202 of 214 shots for a .944 save percentage.

“It’s unfortunate,” said Coyotes defenseman Luke Schenn, who scored his first goal since April 6, 2017 against Vancouver. “You always look back and think if he was healthy at the start of the year…

“Since he’s been healthy he’s been incredible and arguably one of the top goalies in the league.”

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