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Raanta growing into dependable starter with Coyotes

Goaltender has improved fitness, adjusted routine to meet demands of role as No. 1

by Tracey Myers @TraMyers_NHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- Antti Raanta walked out of the locker room at MB Ice Arena in Chicago on Oct. 17 looking more fit than in previous NHL seasons.

The Arizona Coyotes goalie had altered his fitness program, losing about 10 pounds in the process. But losing weight isn't why Raanta, a career NHL backup before becoming Arizona's No. 1 last season, made the change. It was about having the strength and endurance necessary to be a dependable starter in the NHL.

 

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The transition for Raanta began last season, his first with Coyotes, after he went 0-1-1, with a 3.33 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in October, and then missed nine games with a lower-body injury.

"I had a good talk with him around November, December, and said, 'You have to think like a No. 1. You have to eat and train like a No. 1.' And he has been," coach Rick Tocchet said. "I would say that from Christmas on, he changed a lot of his habits. The last 40-50 games, he's been terrific for us, a leader on and off the ice."

Video: CAR@ARI: Raanta robs Foegele on odd-man rush

As the Coyotes have improved, so has Raanta. The 29-year-old is 5-4-0 with a 2.10 goals-against average and .929 save percentage this season, and he made an NHL career-high 48 saves in Arizona's 4-3 overtime win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday. The Coyotes, who began last season 1-11-1, are 7-5-0 and will take a five-game winning streak into their game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Gila River Arena on Monday (9 p.m. ET; FS-A, NBCSP, NHL.TV).

One big reason is Raanta, who is living up to the three-year contract he signed with the Coyotes on April 6.

"When you sign a new deal, you want to do everything possible that you're worth that deal," said Raanta, who came to the Coyotes in a trade with the New York Rangers on June 23, 2017. "There are still some things I want to work on. When you're playing hockey, there's always something you want to do better. But I think we're on the right track with that."

Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, for whom Raanta was a backup for two seasons (2013-15), sees Raanta's improvement.

"He just looks calm in there," Crawford said. "He's always kind of been that goalie, but it seems he's relying less on his flexibility and more on strength and getting into position. He's a great reactor. But when you're there, when your full body's there, it makes it easier on you to make saves instead of being stretched out all the time."

Raanta was a solid backup goalie. He was 20-9-5 with a 2.41 GAA and .912 save percentage with the Blackhawks from 2013-15 and 27-14-4 with a 2.25 GAA and .921 save percentage playing behind Henrik Lundqvist with the Rangers from 2015-17. But going from backup to starter is a challenge. Crawford, a backup for the Blackhawks in 2010-11 before becoming the starter in 2011-12, altered some of his training habits, including lifting weights less often. He also had to get mentally stronger.

"When you become a No. 1, you have those stretches that aren't so good," Crawford said. "You learn to try to just let it go throughout a game. A bad goal, couple of bad goals, it's just 'next play, next play.' because you never know what the difference is going to be in a game. If you let something bother you and it carries on, the next one could be the difference -- or the next save could be the difference."

Video: CAR@ARI: Raanta shuts down Hurricanes on power play

Cam Talbot, a backup for the Rangers from 2013-15 before being traded to the Edmonton Oilers and becoming their starter in 2015-16, said he cut back on practice time.

"I used to stay out after practice or go out early with [goalie coach Dustin Schwartz], but you just can't do that anymore when you're playing 73 games (in 2016-17)," Talbot said. "I've always been a guy that worked really hard on the ice and off the ice and sometimes as the starter, you have to take back a little bit of that, at the end of practice, stuff like that, just so you're more fresh for the games. I think that was a bit of a learning curve for me."

After his rough start to last season, Raanta finished 21-17-6 with a 2.24 GAA and .930 save percentage; he was 15-5-1 with a 1.83 GAA and .943 save percentage after Jan. 20. The save percentage and goals-against average led the NHL for goalies who played at least 20 games in that span.

It was a result of working with the Coyotes trainers during the season. Wanting to do it over the course of an entire season, he began working during the offseason with Rami Valimaa, a trainer in Raanta's hometown of Rauma, Finland.

With help from Coyotes strength and conditioning coordinator JP Major, Valimaa designed a workout to improve Raanta's core and leg strength and conditioning. Workouts incorporated kettlebells, rubber bands and ropes, and included an "all-in" session when Raanta ran up and down stairs 60 times, the first 30 times carrying an extra 10 kilograms.

"JP gave me some main guidelines about training, and I made a program with tough leg days," Valimaa said. "Some days focused on power and some we focused on endurance. In these first games during this season, Antti's been quicker and more agile. I'm very proud of Antti. He did great work during the summer and was really engaged with training and focused all the time."

Raanta said he felt the difference the first time he went on the ice this summer.

"The movement was much sharper and I just felt like I was moving better," he said. "That's the big thing when you're not the biggest goalie in the League." 

Video: ARI@WPG: Raanta stones Perreault's tip-in attempt

Raanta has made the necessary changes to be a better starter. Now he's seeing the results.

"I just wanted to keep doing everything I could to be more ready," Raanta said. "You just try to do everything right. It feels good to be on the ice right now and it's just a grind through the season. So hopefully everything works out this year better than last year." 

NHL.com staff writer Tim Campbell contributed to this report

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