It was a development that yielded a collective groan from Coyotes fans everywhere.
As the Nashville Predators increased their lead to three goals in the second period of their Game 2 matchup, which they eventually would win by a 4-2 score, cameras panned to the Coyotes bench to find backup goaltender Antti Raanta absent.
Instead, third-stringer Adin Hill sat on the bench in his place. “Unfit to play,” the NHL’s new, one-size-fits-all term for players unable to take the ice, was the reason given for Raanta’s departure.
After the game, Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet said something happened during warm-ups. One broadcast showed pre-game footage where Raanta was struck in the mask by some friendly fire.
For Raanta, who has had at least one concussion in the past, his status for the game after taking a puck to the head is understandable – although it remains unclear why he was removed during the second period and not before puck drop.
Regardless, in a game the Coyotes lost rather decisively – save for two Arizona goals in the final minute to shrink the deficit – Raanta’s absence didn’t make much of a difference. Starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper, whose performance was nothing to write home about, was still fine enough to play all 60 minutes of Tuesday’s game.
It does make a difference for the rest of the series, and especially for what will be a tie-breaking Game 3 matchup scheduled for Wednesday. If healthy, Raanta would be a strong candidate to start the game since Kuemper has already played two playoff games in three days.
Now, Tocchet isn’t so sure what his goaltending situation in Game 3 – or beyond – will look like.
“We’ll talk about it today and tonight,” Tocchet said, “for tomorrow.”
An injury to Raanta is no new venture for the Coyotes, who have navigated a laundry list of Raanta’s ailments over the past few seasons.
In January, with Kuemper on the shelf, Raanta couldn’t stay healthy for a string of starts and suffered a lower-body injury that allowed him to play just three more games before the month was out. As a result, with the team’s two two goaltenders both out of commission, the Coyotes lost their hold on the Pacific Division lead.
Raanta navigated multiple injuries in his first season with the Coyotes in 2017-18 and dealt with a major knee injury that derailed his following season. In 2019-20, Raanta was stunted out of the gate with an illness. In 2018, he missed one game after a fender-bender on the freeway.
However, when able to play, Raanta has been a proficient goalie to the tune of a career 2.63 GAA and a .921 save percentage. With the Coyotes, those numbers are even better (2.47 GAA, .924 SV%). And he has thrived in a tandem setting with Kuemper, who has blossomed since being traded to the Coyotes in 2018.
Still, Kuemper entered this season with just five playoff starts under his belt. And after posting an impressive, 40-save performance in Game 1, he struggled to hold the fort on Tuesday.
Predators forward Nick Bonino got the Predators on the board first when let go a no-look, turn-around shot that surprised everyone on the ice – including Kuemper, who allowed another score on just Nashville’s third shot of the game when Ryan Johansen put a puck on net that just squeezed through his pads. Coyotes forward Phil Kessel had mishandled the puck and had a chance to clear the zone before Johansen corraled it.
As play moved to the second period, the Coyotes fell further in the hole when Predators forward Calle Jarnkrok collected his own rebound and hacked one past Kuemper from the slot.
Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson made it a four-goal game in the third period before the Coyotes got a couple of late goals in the final minute. Coyotes forwards Clayton Keller and Lawson Crouse scored just nine seconds apart to make it a 4-2 game.
The Coyotes most likely will roll with Kuemper on Wednesday and have Hill serve as the backup. And while Hill has proved a serviceable NHL option in 24 career starts, moving forward the Coyotes won’t have the usual comfort of one of the top goaltending tandems in the league in Kuemper in Raanta.
It seems as though an old problem has created new challenges for the Coyotes.
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