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No Goalie Controversy

December 31, 2013, 12:29 PM ET [258 Comments]
John Jaeckel
Chicago Blackhawks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
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There's an unmistakable parallel between the Hawks' goaltending situation now, and at this time in 2010. A perhaps underappreciated veteran butterfly goalie as the number one, a Finnish rookie with lots of talent and some rough edges to his game as the understudy.

And we know how that turned out.

But that's probably where the comparison ends.

Corey Crawford is not going to spectacularly melt down like Cristobal Huet did in 2010. And Antti Raanta might not be quite as well equipped (at this point) to load a team on his back and carry them through the playoffs lime Antti Niemi did four seasons ago.

Raanta got his first NHL shutout last night, turning away 26 shots in a 1-0 victory over the LA Kings. This guy is good, folks. No doubt. How good he is right now and how good he will need to be the rest of this season and the playoffs is the really big question for the Hawks.

Crawford is rumored to be coming back form a hip/groin injury that's had him shelved for quite some time now. Will he be 100%? Is he at risk of re-injury in an area where goalies are quite vulnerable?

If Crawford is healthy, in my opinion, he has to be the man going forward this season for a team that is quite serious about repeating as Stanley Cup champs. Crawford has the skins on the wall. He is a known commodity, and more importantly a proven one in the cauldron of the playoffs.

But if he's not healthy? If he struggles to regain his form?

The Hawks go from having a really good goalie situation—with really no controversy—to a 24 year old Baltic questionmark, backed up by Jason LaBarbera. Yes, I said LaBarbera.

Raanta has shown the penchant for a great glove save and moves very well in the down position. But he struggles at times with rebounds and he doesn't seem to have a "book" yet on NHL shooters. He also shows a nice ability to bounce back from the rare bad outing or bad goal.

Although he is playing behind one of the better—if not the best— defenses in the NHL, nonetheless, Raanta is an impressive 10-1-3, with a 2.21 GAA and .913 save%. But let's be clear, last night at least, the Hawks blocked a lot of shots and backchecked as well as they ever have.

So the question becomes, if Crawford isn't healthy, or falters for whatever reason, is this guy good enough to carry the mail, not unlike his countryman Niemi did in 2010? Or does Stan Bowman have to go out and find a backup/alternative who inspires more confidence in the playoffs than LaBarbera might?

Time and another 40 or so regular season games will tell.

All for now,

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