It’s 2014 and our beloved Chicago Blackhawks last night, well, didn’t exactly start the New Year off on the best possible foot by losing 3-2 in OT to the New York Islanders. One point is better than none obviously, but I’m looking at the positives of this game, in the same vein as how my youth hockey coach used to buy us “good sportsmanship” snow cones after a near win (those were good times).
Well I have to be honest though, when I say positives, I’m really only going to focus on the one area I’m sure most Hawks fans were probably paying attention to more than the score: the Hawks’ crease. Last night was Corey Crawford’s return to action after nearly a month-long injury hiatus, and it suffices to say Crow looked damn good! Sure the Islanders are the second worst team in the Eastern Conference, but the likes of Kyle Okposo, who is tied for ninth in the NHL in scoring, and the infamous John Tavares, who’s 5th in the league in overall points, are nothing to sneeze at, and Crawford certainly had his hands full all night, literally.
Let me put it this way, Crawford was the reason the Hawks left Nassau Coliseum with one point instead of none. Maybe the Blackhawks were still working the champagne out of their system, maybe they just wanted Crawford to get re-acclimated as quickly as possible, or maybe the Hawks phoned it in because they didn’t have to protect fledgling goaltender Antti Raanta for the first time in 10 games. I don’t know. I’m not Eddie Olczyk. But I do know who didn’t have a great game last night: the Hawks defenseman. Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson were -2 and Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya were -1. Fortunately Crawford was able to pick up the slack, making 31 saves with a SV% of .912, one of those saves being on a Brock Nelson breakaway, and another coming for denying a Tavares standing alone in front of the net.
Crawford has obviously not missed a beat, which makes for another interesting development. Tonight as the Hawks continue their Eastern Conference trip against the New Jersey Devils, Antti Raanta will be between the pipes. Hawks fans should look at this with much elation, because not only does it mean the Blackhawks coaching staff are letting Crawford ease back into his starting role maintain his health, but Raanta has earned the trust of the organization to shoulder the load, and just how big that load may be going forward is anyone’s guess.
However, I’d like to think the Blackhawks are very aware of the talent they possess and how to utilize it, eventually if not immediately. I also think everyone in the Hawks’ locker room and then some remember how successful they were last year with the goalie tandem of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery aka Cremery. Antti Raanta has performed well beyond expectations, and that was as the Hawks solo goalkeeper. Anyone who’s played any kind of sport knows you get better by watching players better than yourself, so I’d bet if Crawford and Raanta start sharing goal keeping duties going forward, Raanta will thrive in Corey’s shadow, perhaps to the point of possibly usurping the starting gig, which will certainly keep Crawford sharp as an added bonus.
All I know is last time the Blackhawks had a talented young Finnish back-up net-minder named Antti, they won the Stanley Cup. What’s different from 2010 however is the Hawks’ starting goalie this season is last year’s Stanley Cup champion. Anyone else get the chills a bit contemplating the titillating possibilities and outcomes? A Crawford/Raanta tandem (which by all indications seems all but confirmed) in the Blackhawks’ net would certainly give fans a lot to look forward for the rest of the regular season, so here’s hoping Craanta becomes a ubiquitous moniker in 2014.
FOR THE DAGGER!