Prior to the Blackhawks’ game in Dallas on Tuesday night, Joel Quenneville revealed that Corey Crawford would miss the next 2-3 weeks with a lower body injury. That “lower body” injury is presumed to be a groin injury based on how Crawford injured himself during Sunday night’s game against Florida. What this all means is that all the weight is now on Antti Raanta’s shoulders; a guy who was playing in Rockford just a month ago only dreaming about making it to the NHL someday.
Raanta, who improved to 4-0-1 after last night’s win in Dallas, has played exactly how the Blackhawks want their backup goalie to play since bringing him up following the injury to Nikolai Khabibulin. Only now, he’s their starter for the next few weeks. In the 6 games that Raanta has appeared in (5 starts), he has posted a 2.14 GAA and a .924 save percentage. Those are very respectable numbers for a rookie. Raanta and the Hawks will need those numbers to continue as the Blackhawks are about to begin arguably their toughest stretch of the schedule this season.
Also as a result of Crawford’s injury was the promotion of Rockford goalie Kent Simpson to the NHL. He is now the Blackhawks backup goalie to Antti Raanta. Simpson, the Blackhawks second round pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, has a 6-7 record in the AHL this season along with a 3.38 GAA and .900 save percentage. Those are not very good numbers by any means, even in the AHL. Obviously the Hawks were not planning on calling Simpson up to the NHL this year, and I am sure that they would prefer to use him as little as possible while he is up in Chicago.
What all of this means is that Antti Raanta is going to see a ton of playing time until Corey Crawford returns to the lineup. Raanta has proven he can get the job done in the 6 games that he has played in, and now is the time for him to really show that he belongs in the NHL. Including tonight’s game against the Flyers, the Blackhawks have 3 sets of back-to-back games over the next three weeks. Normally, Joel Quenneville doesn’t like to have the same goalie play both games of a back-to-back set, but with Kent Simpson being his second option now, Antti Raanta might not get a day off. He is about to be tested skill-wise and physically during this upcoming stretch of games.
Moving forward, the Blackhawks are really going to have to play solid defense in front of Raanta and Simpson, if he ever gets playing time. While Raanta has built some confidence recently, the best thing for him is going to be building even more confidence. The best way for the Hawks to help him achieve that is by playing strong defense in front of him and limiting their opponents scoring opportunities. Raanta even said after the Hawks’ 6-2 win in Dallas on Tuesday that “It’s pretty nice to be a goalie on this team,” meaning that they have limited the opposition’s scoring chances and have been scoring a ton of goals themselves lately. That is usually a recipe for success, and they absolutely have to continue doing so from here on out, or at least until Crawford gets back.
The bottom line is that the Blackhawks have a very fragile goalie situation at the moment. The last thing they want is for Raanta to begin struggling and have to turn to Kent Simpson. If Antti Raanta plays well as the starter while Crawford is out, I can almost guarantee you that Nikolai Khabibulin will not play another game as a Blackhawk once he gets healthy. Based on his early season struggles before getting hurt, the Blackhawks have zero confidence in him. Plus, Raanta was signed to someday be a goalie (backup and/or starter) on the Blackhawks. They didn’t sign him to sit in Rockford forever. If he can prove that he’s ready for the NHL in the same year that they signed him, then that’s just a bonus.
These next few weeks will say a lot about Raanta and the Blackhawks.