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Blackhawks Wed Dec 11 2013

Blackhawks Focused On One Goal With Four Goalies

Thumbnail image for GB blackhawks icon.png Back when Antti Raanta was signed by the Blackhawks on June 3, in the middle of the team's playoff run to its fifth title, the thought then was to slowly groom the 24-year-old Finnish star and get him acclimated to the dimensions of NHL rinks and speed level of NHL talent. Six months later, Raanta finds himself spelling Corey Crawford and stonewalling the competition to a 4-0-1 record with a 2.14 goals against average and .924 save percentage.

Raanta has played well, including a nice performance against the Dallas Stars on December 10, stopping 27 of 29 shots, which led to a 6-2 Blackhawks win. It helped that the defense, Brent Seabrook mainly, had a better game in their own zone by way of clearing the puck and cutting down on turnovers, but credit Raanta with stepping up in a pinch while Crawford rests his lower-body injury for the next two to three weeks.

At the start of this season, the Blackhawks were playing Crawford as the starter with Nikolai Khabibulin (remember him?) as his backup. After Khabi tried to earn his $1.7 million salary by stopping pretty much nothing sent his way (this is fun: each goal he let up was worth $85,000), he was placed in injured reserve (groin), thus shelving the mad Russian until further notice.

Suddenly, Raanta was called up from Rockford to backup Crawford and gain some NHL experience. Then, as luck would have it, Crawford was pulled after pulling something in his lower body during the Blackhawks' game against the Florida Panthers on December 8, and now is out of commission. Enter [DRUM ROLL PLEASE] Kent Simpson, who was called up from Rockford to backup Raanta.

Simpson sported a 6-7 record in Rockford this season with a 3.38 goals against average and .900 save percentage. Simpson was selected fifty-eighth overall in the 2010 National Hockey League Entry Draft and now the 21-year-old lefty finds himself backing up Raanta in the big show.

Having the highest scoring team in the league ahead of you would give any goalie the confidence needed to go out and play their game -- OK, maybe with the exception of Khabibulin. As long as Raanta, and Simpson when needed, can keep their heads up and not get too creative in the crease, the Blackhawks should continue to ride through December even as the schedule gets tougher.

Resting Crawford at this stage is important, too. For a stretch there, Crawford literally was playing in every game during the first few months of the season. Most of that was due in part to relieving Khabibulin and picking up the slack, to which he did a commendable job. Crawford insisted he wasn't getting tired, which may have been true, but providing he makes the Canadian national team for the Olympics in Sochi, he'll be spent by the time tax day arrives.

Oh yeah, you can put the idea of a goalie controversy out of your thoughts, too. This isn't McCown-Cutler; although, it is amazing folks still are denying Crawford's ability between the pipes to this day.

Give Raanta and Simpson the time needed to rest and heal Crawford. Then, if Crawford does get the call for team Canada, disguise Khabibulin up as number 50 and ship him off to Sochi. Mike Babcock won't know the difference, and it's a free ticket to get Khabi back home to Mother Russia. Win-win!

 
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