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Rangers' Raanta shuts out Sharks in season debut

by Dan Rosen

NEW YORK -- New York Rangers goalie Antti Raanta got his first vote of confidence from coach Alain Vigneault on Monday and he responded by making a memorable impression.

Raanta, starting in place of Henrik Lundqvist for the first time this season and challenged with trying to help the Rangers end a losing streak that had stretched to three games, was perfect with 22 saves in a 4-0 victory against the San Jose Sharks at Madison Square Garden.

It was Raanta's fourth career shutout in his 40th game in the NHL. The Rangers (4-2-1) acquired him in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on June 27. Raanta was brought in to replace Cam Talbot, who was traded to the Edmonton Oilers after going 21-9-4 in 36 games for the Rangers last season.

"It's nice to get this kind of start," Raanta said. "I knew what Cam Talbot did here last year. Of course, everybody is going to compare me to him. That's how it goes in the hockey world, everybody is always expecting you to be better than the last one. I tried to play and enjoy the game, don't think about those things too much. It was fun to start like this, but there is more to work on. It wasn't a perfect game, but it was nice."

Defenseman Marc Staal and forward Jesper Fast each had a goal and an assist for the Rangers, who lost their previous three games by a combined score of 9-2, including a 2-1 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils on Sunday. Forwards Mats Zuccarello and Viktor Stalberg scored.

Staal said he could sense a better focus heading into the game Monday.

"We had more energy in the room going into the game and it felt like everyone was committed to turning the tides a little bit," Staal said. "The way we were playing, we weren't happy with it. I thought we did a good job of raising our level of play."

The Sharks (4-2-0) finished their four-game road trip at 2-2-0, but they lost the last two games in regulation, including 6-3 to the New York Islanders on Saturday.

Sharks goalie Martin Jones allowed four goals on 28 shots for his first loss in five starts this season. Jones allowed two goals on 110 shots in winning his first four games.

"We lost pretty much every facet of the game," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "Lost races to pucks. Lost battles. Lost the special teams battle. There's a price to pay to win and the other team was more willing to pay that price tonight than us, so we got what we deserved."

The Rangers scored the first goal for the sixth time in seven games this season. Staal's shot from the right point was deflected on its way to the net and got past Jones high on the short side at 10:36 of the first period.

New York leads the NHL in first goals with six after finishing first last season with 50. The Rangers are 4-1-1 when scoring first.

The Rangers also lead the League in first-period goals with 10, and have the best goal differential in the first period (plus-8).

However, New York's problems during its three-game skid came later in the games. The Winnipeg Jets, Montreal Canadiens and New Jersey Devils combined to outscore the Rangers 8-0 after the first period.

It was a point of emphasis for the Rangers to build on their first period instead of building on their recent trend of regressing after 20 minutes.

They responded well.

Zuccarello's power-play goal at 9:28 of the second gave New York a 2-0 lead. It was the Rangers' second power-play goal of the season. They are 2-for-17 on the man-advantage, including 0-for-12 in their previous three games.

In addition to their 2-0 lead, the Rangers had a 23-13 edge in shots on goal and 37-33 lead in total shot attempts after two periods despite winning 35.3 percent of faceoffs (12-of-34). They outshot the Sharks 10-4 in the second period.

Fast and Stalberg scored in the third period.

"We've all been talking about it, players and coaches, about putting a 60-minute game on the ice," Vigneault said. "We're not going to be perfect. We're not going to always make the play. When you don't make the play, for whatever reason, you need the save, and we got the save tonight. I thought we had some better looks offensively. I thought we tried to get more pucks toward the net."

And on the opposite end, the Rangers did a good job of suppressing the Sharks' chances and letting Raanta see the puck. He said he figured they would play well in front of him because of the urgency they had to stop the losing streak before it morphed into a bigger problem.

"There weren't any 2-on-1s like we had [been giving up]," Raanta said. "I think [Lundqvist] made like 15 saves on 2-on-1s the last two games. You can see from those situations, when everybody is behind the puck and when we lost the puck in the offensive zone there were always three guys coming back and the fourth and fifth forward were also coming back. That was really good today."

Good enough that Raanta had a perfect start in his first game with the Rangers. The fans inside the Garden were chanting his name by the end of it.

"It wasn't as loud as [Lundqvist] always gets," Raanta said, "but it was a great start."


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