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Coyotes’ goaltending luxury magnified by unique NHL format

Goaltender Antti Raanta #32 of the Arizona Coyotes controls the puck as he participates in a NHL team practice at Gila River Arena on July 16, 2020 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Maybe now more than ever, the Arizona Coyotes are glad that their goaltending situation is structured the way that it is.

At the moment, the classic starter and backup arrangement of netminders doesn’t really apply to the Coyotes. The emergence of Darcy Kuemper for Arizona has been an important development since he arrived in the Valley in 2017-18, but his emergence as one of the team’s top players doesn’t diminish the value of his fellow goaltender, Antti Raanta.

That’s especially true when the Coyotes have to quickly transition from a months-long hiatus to postseason hockey, playing against the Nashville Predators in the postseason starting Aug. 2.

“I’m not quite sure you can just run a goalie all the way through and win a Stanley Cup,” head coach Rick Tocchet said Thursday. “I’m not saying some goalies can’t do it, but in this format, it’s going to be tough. We’re lucky, like I said, to have that option and not have that drop-off in a sense. We know, obviously, Darcy’s, this last year and a half, been very, very good for us, but other than Raants getting hurt a bunch of times in that time frame, Raants has pitched us some really good hockey games.

“So if Raants has to go in, we’re not nervous. We know we have a really, really good goaltender going in and he’s prepared himself. That’s one of the strengths of our team, for sure.”

Since joining the Coyotes in 2017-18, Raanta has put up a .924 save percentage. That’s the second-best in the entire NHL in that time frame among goalies with more than 30 games played, second only to his teammate, Kuemper. Raanta’s bigger issue has been staying healthy.

Raanta has dealt with a number of injuries since arriving in Arizona, hurting his cause to be the No. 1 goaltender he was brought in to be. But in 2019-20, he played 33 games to Kuemper’s 29, and both goaltenders’ save percentages were north of .920 — an excellent mark. According to NaturalStatTrick, the Coyotes had a .919 save percentage as a team in 2019-20, the third-best in the NHL behind only Boston and Dallas.

“Now days in the league, I think you need to have two strong goalies to be able to win something,” Raanta said. “You can see on other teams also, they’re doing that a lot nowadays. So I think it’s only a good thing. It’s fun to be in practice, fun to battle against [Kuemper]. It’s fun. It’s not like we’re fighting in the locker room, not talking to each other. We just try to push each other, and whoever gets to play, I feel like the other one is going to be helping him. Either way, we are there for him.

“I think it’s a good advantage for our team that we have two good goalies. And I hope that the players know that they can trust either one. Obviously [Jason Demers] might have something else to say about that, but hopefully they trust either when it goes to the net.”

Demers, who was on the same conference call with reporters, replied: “I trust you, Raants, with my life. You save my bacon. I’d be -20 without you.”

It remains to be seen who will start the first game against Nashville. But if the Coyotes are fortunate enough to advance further, the net probably won’t be just one man or the other’s. Tocchet also admitted this week that there might be less leash to work with for some players because of the magnitude of the situation.

“You always need two excellent goalies, which we have, but especially what’s going on, the way the format is and what’s been thrown at us, I think if you’re going to go all the way, you need two goalies,” Tocchet said. “And they’re going to play, I think. We’re lucky we have Raants, who when his number’s called upon, we know there’s not going to be any drop-off. That’s something that’s big.”

“Nobody knows how we’re going to do it, but you have to ask that from the coaches,” Raanta said, “but I’m just doing whatever I need to do to be ready and whoever gets the nod in net, either me or Kuemps, we’re going to be ready to play.”


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