Rangers Look to Add to Pavelec’s Workload

We got a glimpse on Tuesday at one of the “unknowns” in the Rangers’ 2017-18 season.

With the team’s schedule bunching up for the first time, we’re going to find out more.

Backup goalie Ondrej Pavelec, signed as a free agent last summer to replace the traded Antti Raanta, will be a crucial piece of the puzzle in the remaining two-thirds of the Rangers’ season.

Friday’s game in Washington – in which Henrik Lundqvist is expected to start in goal — begins a stretch of six games in nine days, including two sets of three in four nights.

[Carpiniello: Rangers Aim to Take Back Road Warrior Mentality]

Rangers coach Alain Vignaults original plan was for Pavelec to play two of those six, at least. That was before Pavelec was forced to sub for an ill Lundqvist Tuesday in Pittsburgh, where he stopped 41 shots (22 in the second period, 16 in the third) in a 4-3 victory, just his fourth start of the season.

Now the schedule toughens for the Rangers, who have won six of seven and 12 of 15. Friday’s game and Saturday’s home match against the Devils will be the third of the Rangers’ 11 scheduled back-to-backs.

“Pav’s going to get a chance to play and he’s got to win us some games,” said Vigneault. “He’s got to make a difference and make a couple of key saves at the right time. He’s aware of it and he’s going to get a chance to play.

“He’s got to be good.”

[Watch Rangers-Caps Friday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

That’s all fine and good – and understood – by Pavelec. It’s not an easy role to fill, playing so sparsely, and not easy to be compared to Lundqvist’s last two partners, Raanta and Cam Talbot, who were fabulous.

“But that’s the way it is,” Pavelec said. “Your job is to be ready for games. If it’s hard or not, nobody asks, right? That’s the way it is. That’s your role, that’s your job. It’s just about staying sharp in practice and play in practice like a game and focus, and that’s all you can do.”

Even without the opportunity to play, which awaits, Pavelec has enjoyed the first third of the season, working with Lundqvist and goalie coach Benoit Allaire, both of whom he’d never met before becoming a Ranger.

“He’s been great,” Pavelec said about Allaire. “It’s been a great experience to work with Hank and Benny, a lot of experienced guys that have been around for a while. It’s been fun

“It’s been exciting all year long, pretty much. It’s really fun to be here and play for the Rangers. So I’m looking forward to more games”

Lundqvist sure seems comfortable with the new tandem. The two goalies play similar games and have similar personalities and focus points.

“It’s been great,” Lundqvist said. “I feel like we’re pretty similar. He’s pretty quiet and we have a lot of respect. I have a lot of respect for him. He works hard, and I really enjoy working with him. I really do. I think we both feel like we can talk when we can just enjoy each other’s company (and when we can be) focused. Coming from Czech, his mindset is similar to mine, being Swedish. I really like him”

More important, though, are the results. The bottom line.

“It’s going to be extremely important for us to have him at the top of his game and help us win games,” Lundqvist said. “There’s no question, if we want to get in (to the playoffs) we’re going to need it. So it’s important for us to push each other here. If he doesn’t see action for a while, it’s important that we make sure in practice that we keep the intensity high.”

[Watch Rangers-Caps Friday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]