Blackhawks Fortunate to Have Goalie Depth
No starting goalie? No problem! The Chicago Blackhawks could be facing dire times ahead if not for the stellar play of Antti Raanta, who has backstopped the ‘Hawks after being called up from Rockford when Nikolai Khabibulin was injured during a Nov 16th loss to Nashville, and when starter Corey Crawford left with a lower body injury on Dec. 8th. With both of the top two goalies on the shelf, the mantle has been passed to the 24 year old from Rauma, Finland. Raanta is a 6 foot, 180lb undrafted rookie who has been playing well with the Ice Hogs in Rockford, and now finds himself squarely in the race for the top seed in the Western Conference of the NHL.
Although playing in the league’s toughest division, Raanta has hit the ground running, and been solid behind an already strong team. He’s currently 7-1-1 since Crawford’s absence, and has posted a staggering 92% save percentage and a 2.26 GAA, which is better than what Crawford or Khabibulin were putting up. He’s been absolutely solid in net, and the Blackhawks have benefitted tremendously from it. They now have sole possession of first in the Central, as well as the West (and NHL) overall. After last season’s unbelievable winning streak, it’s easy to overlook the success that this season’s squad has been having. Their current record of 25-7-5 is nothing to scoff at, and the Hawks just keep on adding on the wins. One would expect that having an AHL goalie taking the reins until at least the start of January would cause the team to drop a few points in the standings, but it has been the exact opposite.
In fact, when Crawford and Khabibulin are cleared to play again, they may be playing for their jobs. Raanta is 24, and that’s about the right age for a goalie to become a contender in the league. His numbers have rivaled Crawford’s, and frankly, have blown the aged Khabibulin’s out of the water. This is Khabibulin’s second stint in Chicago, and he is definitely showing his age. He struggled mightily in Edmonton, and has been looking better only because he has the benefit of Chicago’s defense in front of him, like Ray Emery last season. Could Khabibulin be looking at a semi-forced retirement? He could spend his next spring golfing and working on his organic gardening skills instead of stopping pucks.
To make matters a little more confusing, the Hawks recently traded for another former Oiler, Jason Labarbera. A move like that seems to make Khabibulin dead weight on the roster. Although Labarbera has been assigned to Rockford in the AHL, he has quite a bit of NHL experience under his belt, and could move up to the big club if management isn’t quite sold on Raanta yet. Both Labarbera and Raanta have quite a few more years to go in their careers, barring injury, and the ‘Bulin Wall is crumbling. The Hawks have a lot of good things going on in net, and with such a high-powered offense, this team may be lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup again, and maybe they’ll have another goalie named Antti helping them hoist it like in 2010.