The mess tat was the Rangers’ first month, perhaps made it easy to overlook yet another challenge facing the team after a Summer of change. With reliable netminder Antti Raanta sent to Arizona in a trade, New York was faced with picking up yet another backup.
Relative success from the likes of Steven Valiquette, Martin Biron, Cam Talbot and Raanta, have perhaps spoiled us all, Perhaps too management were lulled into a false sense of security, believing at the very least that a 36 year old Henrik Lundqvist could carry the load, or one of the young netminders might step up and push for spot if things didn’t work out.
With over one third of the season now in the books, Ondrej Pavelec sits with a 2-4-0 record, and has started just four games out of the 29 the team has played, with the last one coming as a result of Lundqvist being ill. Projected out for the full season, and Pavelec is on course to start just 12 games, less than half the 26 Raanta had last year, or 50% less than the 18 he started in 2015-16.
The slow start for the Rangers was part of the reason that the team turned to Lundqvist to bail them out, but the lack of confidence in Pavelec has continued on well beyond that. In relatively limited action this year, the Czech native has shown some good reactions, and quick legs, but has lagged in his rebound control and to some extent appears to be vulnerable high to the glove side.
In the four games he’s played the entirety of, he’s give up 3, 2, 5 and 3 goals respectively. In the 94 minutes of relief he’s allowed an even worse total of 6 goals. To compound the frustration, the Rangers have fought back in each of those games in relief. He came in down 5-2 against Toronto, only to see the Blueshirts rally to 5-5 and then ultimately lose 8-5. Against Chicago New York was down 4-1 and ralleid to 4-3 before losing 6-3, and most recently he came in with the Rangers down 3-0 after the first period to the Florida Panthers, backstopped a comeback to 4-4 before losing it with lest than 80 seconds remaining in requlation.
Last Tuesday, with Ludnqvist sidelined with the flu, Pavelec finally got a chance to redeem himself, and that came in the form of a tense 4-3 win over Pittsburgh on the road. Contrasting his earlier performances, Pavelec was able to hang on for the crucial saves at the end of the game, and allowed the Rangers to take advantage of the Penguins’ own goalie woes – Matt Murray having been out injured in recent weeks.
That win has given the Alain Vigneault and the Rangers coaching staff some limited confidence to give Pavelec another start tonight against Dallas. With the game being against a Western Conference opponent, the stakes are not quite as high as the recent Metropolitan Division match-ups. Pavelec though will still need to show he can win, otherwise his next start may yet be some time in coming, meaning yet more pressure on Lundqvist to prop the team up as it continues it’s climb back into contention.