It’s been a rough four days for our beloved Chicago Blackhawks, no question. Three games, two of them back to back, two against Western Conference teams right behind them in the standings, and two against teams in the Central Division. To come out of this gauntlet victorious, the Hawks were going to have to dig deep, be relentlessly resourceful, consistently composed, tenaciously tough. And well, they did just that! If ever there was a way to close out a year already chalk-full of spectacular Blackhawks memories, this past weekend was it.
You know the outcome of the weekend (which we know you enjoyed), but what’s the major take away from these past few games? There are certainly more than a few, but I feel the most positive take-away was the performance of Antti Raanta aka the Rant between the pipes against the St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings.
Let me be blunt: Antti Raanta laid an egg against St. Louis, plain and simple. When a team has the most shots and most face-off wins, and scores 5 goals on two different goalies, you’d think they’d win the game right? Well when your goalie only puts up a .80 save percentage, that’s not necessarily the case. Let’s step back a moment, though. No one is pointing the finger at Raanta by any means; this third string goalie thrust into play at the NHL level for the defending Stanley Cup champions after only having 2 months of North American hockey experience has done far more than anyone has asked of him, but his sub-par performance against the St. Louis Blues, and to the same extent, against the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier this season, are indicative of one thing: Raanta is emotional.
Being an emotional goalie can be a double edged sword, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with it, but for a goalie like Raanta, it affects his play a bit more that it would other net-minders. For Raanta, going against the Blackhawks’ biggest division rival that even Corey Crawford has yet to beat put a lot on his shoulders, and suffice it say he collapsed under the pressure. However, it was pressure that Raanta put on himself, and it hurt his play for the following reasons.
One thing that anyone who’s seen Raanta in person will immediately notice is his size: he seems to be barely a head taller than the crossbar. Given his proportions, Raanta’s positioning has a greater impact than a larger goalie, because he takes up less of the goal and shots that would bounce off a bigger keeper’s equipment will find the back of the net against a goalie Raanta’s size. Thus, Raanta’s best hockey results from him being aggressive and out at the top of the crease. All the goals the Blues scored on Raanta came from him being nervous and playing passively deep in the net. To be aggressive, you have to be confident, end of story.
So what about the good news? Well, after the debacle in St. Louis Raanta seemed to learn from his mistakes, recognize his own short-comings, and rectify the problems. Against, the Los Angeles Kings, Raanta was out for redemption, and you could see it in his play. Take the Dustin Brown penalty shot for example. Raanta started way above the crease, took away any possible angle for the Kings’ captain, and turned away the shot like it was nothing. Raanta’s composure continued to remain solid as he would go on to make 26 saves on 26 shots and get his first NHL shutout and the first shutout for the Blackhawks this season.
I don’t know about you, but when a goalie puts up such a turnaround performance after a such clunker, hockey fans and coaching staffs alike should take notice, and you had to smile when you saw Raanta’s face as he took his victory lap as one of the game’s stars last night. It looked like he was having the time of his life, and he had every right to feel so elated. He’s certainly made a case for himself earning a permanent roster spot on the Blackhawks, and it’s not like it hasn’t happened before. Both Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford were thrust into the spotlight before they were considered “ready” and now both have Stanley Cups on their resumes. So maybe now, after his rise, fall, and redemption, Antti Raanta will be lingering in the spotlight just a little bit longer.
FOR THE DAGGER!