When Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford went down with a lower body injury during the team’s Dec. 8 game against the Florida Panthers at the United Center, the concern from many Hawks fans was palpable.
Into the game came Finnish rookie Antti Raanta, who had made four appearances for Chicago prior to Crawford’s injury. In thoses games, Raanta had given up eight goals in 98 shots against, but he had shown some flaws in his game that needed to be addressed. His rebound control wasn’t all that good, and he all too often would lose his net behind him as he would come way out beyond the blue paint to try to cut off shooting lanes of rushing offensive players.
As time has worn on, those issues have slowly worked themselves out as Raanta has become more familiar with the speed of the NHL game, and other than a minor hiccup against the Toronto Maple Leafs, he has been really good in Crawford’s absence. In six starts since the Blackhawks’ starter went down, Raanta has given up only 13 goals, and he has picked up a 4-1-1 record over that time.
His game on Friday against the Vancouver Canucks at the United Center was definitely an outing that pointed to some of the areas that Raanta has improved in. His ice vision seemed to be at peak level, as he was able to duck and weave past several Canucks’ players near the crease in order to see a lot of shots on their way in. Couple that with the fact that he was able to control rebounds to a much better degree than he had in some previous games, and it’s surprising that he wasn’t able to escape the UC with a win that night.
Perhaps more than his performance during regulation and overtime, Raanta’s shootout performance on Friday was great. He showed the full complement of moves in his arsenal, including coming out of the crease to challenge shooters early, using his stick to deftly poke-check the puck away, and all the while maintaining a great position between the shooter and the net.
Raanta’s best moment in the game came in regulation. In the late stages of the game, he had to cope with an intense rush by Mike Santorelli with the scored tied at 2-2. Instead of just waiting for the Canucks’ forward to get to the net, Raanta actually made a diving pokecheck attempt to cut off his deke angle. Seeing that, Santorelli had to delay his shot in order to try to get it around Raanta, but he ended up putting his shot off the side of the net because of the Hawks’ goaltender’s aggression.
That play, while not reflected in Raanta’s save total because the shot didn’t actually count, is a perfect representation of his ever-sharpening abilities. He is an aggressive goaltender with incredible flexibility and a willingness to force the issue on shooters, and while he will have his share of hiccups, that kind of play is integral to his future with the Hawks.