CHICAGO — It wouldn’t be unfair to call Ondrej Pavelec the lone Ranger. The 30-year-old Czech netminder hasn’t started a game since Oct. 23, when he faced 43 shots during a 5-4 loss in Montreal. And although Pavelec relieved Henrik Lundqvist on Wednesday, it’s unclear when he’ll get the nod next.
Pavelec, (1-3, 3.64, .887) who started eight games in an injury-hampered season for the Winnipeg Jets last year, has started just two other games and stepped in for Lundqvist for the second time of the season at 6:32 of the third period with the Rangers trailing 4-1. He allowed one goal on eight shots.
“I go back to what I said at the beginning of the season, I’m not picking a number [of starts] for Hank,” coach Alain Vigneault said before Wednesday’s game. “Our schedule has been easy as it can probably get, and he’s been playing well. Obviously, it’s not easy on Pavs, and he’s got to work harder with [goaltending coach] Benny [Allaire], he’s got do extra. If you look at the winning percentage of backups since I’ve been here they’ve been very high, we expect them to win, so Pavs has got to keep himself sharp.” By Nov. 13 last season, Antti Raanta had already started five games, posting a 4-1 record.
Unless Lundqvist is struggling or injured, Vigneault generally has used his backups when the team has back-to-back games or when they face Western Conference opponents. But the next back-to-back for the Rangers isn’t until Dec. 8-9, on the road against the Capitals and home against the Devils. That’s a long layoff, so it’s believed that Pavelec will get back in sooner, possibly in a Sunday matinee against Vancouver at home on Nov. 26.
Rick Nash had a goal and assist . . . Zibanejad leads the team with nine goals and 19 points . . . The Rangers were outshot 43-28. “We only had one line going,” said Vigneault . . . J.T. Miller, Jimmy Vesey (wearing a plastic cage attached to his helmet to protect his injured mouth) and David Desharnais, as well as the entire fourth line, were ineffective . . . The penalty-kill denied four power plays until Artem Anisimov’s second goal.