Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Upping The Antti (Not Niemi)


There must be something about the name Antti that goes over well in Chicago. There was a fair amount of hype surrounding Finnish goaltender Antti Raanta when he signed this offseason as the team’s third net-minder, but his performance so far has fans reminiscing about another Antti that took over the Windy City.

Corey Crawford is by no means Cristobal Huet (at least not yet), but in the meantime, Raanta has given something the ‘Hawks haven’t had yet this season, consistent performances in net. Crawford has had his moments this year, but he has also had bouts of erratic play (i.e. an awful three game stint in November and a couple of separate back-to-back four goal disappointments).  When Crawford returns, he will obviously get his starting job back and rightfully so, and it won’t hurt that when he needs a spell Raanta will be a more than capable replacement, which will keep Crawford fresh for another Stanley Cup run. However, I do think there should be both further praise and inspection into Raanta’s play and why him and the previous Antti share more in common then just a name and birthplace.

2009-2010 was a season that former ‘Hawks goalie Antti Niemi will never forget. The fans got a real sense of Niemi that year, and by the time the playoffs rolled around, Niemi had supplanted the aforementioned Huet as the team’s starter. As you know, Niemi was critical to the Blackhawks championship run and eventually leveraged his play into a shot with the San Jose Sharks, which eventually led to this Antti having a much bigger bank account.

Fast forward to present day. The new Antti (Raanta, in case I have lost you), was forced into action due to Crawford’s injury and Khabibulin’s ineptitude and injury. In eight games, Raanta is 7-1-1 with a 2.26 GAA, which also happens to be Niemi’s GAA so far this season. But what really makes the comparison between the two goaltenders so interesting are their respective goaltending styles.

There is no doubt that both Antti’s Finnish heritage plays the largest role in this comparison. They both play a similar butterfly technique and in the Pekka Rinne mold, both shuffle their feet for lateral movement between the pipes. What makes both Antti’s unique is their ability to control the pucks in front of them. This is something many butterfly goalies both past and present have struggled with, along with the ability to keep their lower body’s healthy. In watching Raanta, I see a lot of Niemi because they seem to have outstanding puck awareness, and also don’t over-utilize the active hands approach a lot of Finnish goaltenders have brought to the NHL.

Raanta has shown poise in his starts so far this year, but where he will really have to earn his money will be any chances he may get this postseason. Crawford has proven to be one of the more capable playoff goalies in the league and there is no reason to think this Blackhawks team can’t win another one with him anchoring the defense. But assuming Raanta continues to play at such a high level, is it wrong to question whether more inconsistent play from Crawford wouldn’t warrant a longer look at Raanta in more critical games this season? If the Blackhawks find themselves in the first round down 2-1 with a game coming up against a feisty Minnesota Wild team that put up 4 goals in game three, would they pull Crawford for Raanta?

By no means am I campaigning for the “Start Raanta” organization, something that I hope doesn’t exist in Blackhawk nation. There is still a lot of time and plenty has to play out for this scenario to even take place. My only question is whether or not the ‘Hawks, Coach Quenneville, and the rest of management will be asking themselves similar questions come April.

 

Tags: Antti Niemi Antti Raanta Chicago Blackhawks

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