RALEIGH — Following the Hurricanes’ overtime loss to the Predators on Friday, coach Rod Brind’Amour tried to shield goaltender Antti Raanta from criticism.
“You know, it’s not on him,” Brind’Amour said after Raanta allowed six goals on 30 shots in a 6-5 defeat.
The reality, however, came a little over 15 hours later when Carolina placed Raanta on waivers. He cleared waivers Sunday, a handful of hours before the Hurricanes were set to host the Capitals.
“He’s been part of our group for a while, and you don’t like to see that,” Brind’Amour said following Sunday’s morning skate. “But obviously his game wasn’t quite there, and it’s such an important position.”
Despite a 6-5-1 record, Raanta has been among the worst goaltenders in the NHL this season. His save percentage is down to .854 after the loss to Nashville. According to Hockey-Reference.com, no other goalie since the start of the 2007-08 season has had 12 starts with that low of a save percentage. Just eight other goalies — including the Blackhawks’ Arvid Soderblom this season and former Carolina goalie John Grahame back in 2007-08 — have been at or below .875 with at least 12 starts in the past 16 seasons.
The Hurricanes leaned on Raanta last season when Frederik Andersen battled injuries and played just 34 games in the regular season. The player affectionately known as Father Finn went 19-3-3 overall and was unstoppable at home, going 11-0-1 at PNC Arena.
When Andersen performed well in Carolina’s run to the Eastern Conference finals, the front office decided to re-sign both him and Raanta, giving rookie Pyotr Kochetkov another year to marinate in the minors in preparation for him to eventually be part of the team’s goalie tandem.
Those plans backfired when Andersen was diagnosed with a blood clotting issue after just six starts this season, leaving the net to Raanta and Kochetkov. Neither goalie fared particularly well as the Hurricanes underperformed compared to expectations, but Raanta in particular failed to gain any footing.
After Friday’s loss, Raanta was still in his stall when the media arrived in the locker room, hanging his head and looking at the floor as teammate Jordan Martinook offered words of encouragement and a slap of the pads to try and lift the spirits of his downtrodden teammate.
“It’s not all on him the way we’ve been struggling,” center Sebastian Aho said Sunday morning. “That’s never how it works, it’s never one guy. Obviously goalies, that’s a tough job. I feel like it’s you’re the hero or the anti-hero. It’s tough.”
Aho also added that the entire team needs to find its footing after its 16-12-2 start to the season.
“This has to be the wake-up call for the locker room, and everyone has to go take kind of a deep look in the mirror and show up to work and do our best tonight,” he added.
The team recalled rookie Yaniv Perets from the ECHL’s Norfolk Admirals for Sunday’s game against the Capitals. Perets, who won an NCAA championship playing alongside Brind’Amour’s son Skyler with Quinnipiac last season, is 5-5-1 with a 2.38 goals-against average, .916 save percentage and a shutout in his first professional season with the Admirals.
“I just called call my parents right away,” Perets said of what he did after getting the news he was being recalled. “Pretty exciting moment, obviously, definitely had some tears. But it’s all right. I’m just here now. That’s all that matters.”
The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported on Saturday that Carolina “will likely be in the trade market for a goalie eventually but nothing appears imminent at the moment.”
If Carolina wants to bring in someone familiar, reacquiring a past goalie like Petr Mrazek, James Reimer or Alex Lyon to fill the hole could be an option. Mrazek has performed well on an undermanned Blackhawks team this season, while Lyon and Reimer are two of three goalies currently on Detroit’s roster.
The Hurricanes could also reestablish contact with Jaroslav Halak — who was on a professional tryout with the team earlier in the season after Andersen went on injured reserve — or explore adding a veteran goalie like Montreal’s Jake Allen, Minnesota’s Marc-Andre Fleury or San Jose’s Kaapo Kahkonen or Mackenzie Blackwood. There are pricier options — both in cap hit and acquisition cost — but Carolina has usually steered clear of overcommitting to goaltending.
For now, the Hurricanes will have to lean on another rookie.
Kochetkov entered Sunday’s game with a pedestrian 6-6-1 record, 2.77 goals-against average and .890 save percentage, but his two recent performances showed flashes of what the Hurricanes hope he will become.
Kochetkov made 31 saves Tuesday in a 4-1 win at Ottawa to snap Carolina’s four-game losing streak and followed that with a 25-save performance in a 2-1 win at Detroit.
The 24-year-old Russian is certainly capable of getting hot.
Last season, Kochetkov went on a 10-game point streak from Nov. 25 to the end of the calendar year, going 8-0-2 with a pair of shutouts.
As for Raanta, the Hurricanes could assign him to the minors (either Norfolk or, if there is interest, an AHL team) or keep him on the roster. The team has 30 days to reassign him before he would need to pass through waivers again.