With training camp just three weeks away, we are continuing our look at the player evaluations for the 2013-14 Chicago Blackhawks. What did they do right? What did they do wrong? What can they improve upon for next season?
We continue those evaluations today and turn our attention to the goal crease, as back-up goaltender Antti Raanta checks in.
Raanta was put in an awkward situation early on in the season when Corey Crawford and Nikolai Khabibulin both went down with injuries, but despite a few hiccups, he largely persevered. Through one stretch of five games, Raanta allowed an average of two goals per contest and helped the Hawks to win a tough road game against the Coyotes and two games over playoff teams, beating the Florida Panthers and Dallas Stars.
As the month of December wore on, Raanta had several more quality appearances, with two victories over the Los Angeles Kings and a splendid 27-save performance against the Nashville Predators adorning his resume. His rebound control was good, his technique was on point, and perhaps most importantly of all, he allowed the team to continue their strong play even without their two top goaltenders in the fold.
It was that last bit that convinced the Blackhawks to keep him in the fold as the back-up for the rest of the season, and likely what earned him a contract extension with the team in June.
Unfortunately for Raanta, the season didn’t end for him in December, and he struggled in a big way in limited action the rest of the way. Whether it’s the fact that he wasn’t sharp because of a lack of playing time or because teams asserted more pressure on him, Raanta had several dud performances in the closing weeks of the season, including allowing five goals to the Ottawa Senators in a 5-3 loss on March 28.
While earlier in the season his rebound control was crisp, later on he started to look sluggish in the blue paint and seemed to lack the speed in moving across the crease that he had shown when he firsts was called up to the NHL.
Best Game of 2013-14:
Without question, Raanta’s first career shutout against the Kings on December 30 was when he was at his peak. In that game, he stopped all 26 shots he faced, and the Blackhawks held on for a tightly-contested 1-0 victory over the team that would ultimately eliminate them from the playoffs nearly five months later.
Outlook for 2014-15:
Despite his new deal with the Blackhawks, Raanta isn’t going to get more than 20 starts or so unless Crawford suffers another injury. With a new six-year contract and some solid playoff performances in his back pocket, Crawford is still the guy in Chicago, and while Joel Quenneville does occasionally like to go with the hot hand, Crawford will have a lot of leash before the coach would yank him from the starting spot.