Dec 16, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Minnesota Wild right wing Nino Niederreiter (22) after being tripped as Chicago Blackhawks goalie Antti Raanta (31) makes a save during the third period at the United Center. The Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Minnesota Wild 5-3. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Antti Raanta and the Chicago Blackhawks fell to the Edmonton Oilers 5-2 on Friday night. Raanta, who started in net for the Hawks, stopped 17 of 21 shots (.810 sv%) and took the loss. The loss dropped Raanta to 6-3 on the season with a save percentage of .934 and a goals against of 1.96. His numbers aren’t too shabby for a backup goaltender, but I still question whether or not he should be backing up Crawford. This is being brought up because, well, he lost to the Oilers.
Raanta is 3-1 in his last five starts, but has appeared shaky to me at times. This is completely normal for a backup goalie considering that it is hard to get into a groove when you’re not playing for two weeks at a time. Sure he has practice to keep his game sharp, but game situations are completely different than practice situations. Raanta’s game can be a little inconsistent at times, but what backup goalie’s game isn’t?
When the Blackhawks plucked Raanta out of Finland I was ecstatic. He had just come off an excellent playoff run in the Finnish league and was in the middle of his prime. This is only his second full season in North America, so he still may not be fully adjusted to the North American game just yet. Raanta is most certainly not a lost cause. You’ve seen his numbers and we can both agree that they’re pretty solid. Raanta will be twenty-six this May and is still under contract until after the 2015-2016 season.
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The obvious choice to supplant Raanta as Crawford’s backup is the hometown hero Scott Darling. Scott Darling was called up by the Blackhawks when Crawford had a mishap with a step at a concert and appeared in seven games posting a 5-2 record with .937 save percentage and 1.97 goals against. Even though seven games is a very small sampling, numbers don’t lie. Darling is twenty-six and has bounced around the minors for a few seasons. So far this year in Rockford Darling is 9-5-2,.924 sv%, and a G.A.A of 2.35. I’m a big fan of Darling because he’s giant between the pipes and he has good lateral movement for his size. He doesn’t give up much of the net with his big frame, but has the quickness to cover the parts of the net he doesn’t cover.
Darling was quite impressive in his short stint with the Hawks this year, but Antti Raanta has more of an NHL resumè. In my eyes the backup goalie job is still Raanta’s to lose. If he can find a little more consistency then Raanta could be looking at a starting gig in the next couple of years, maybe not with the Hawks, but somewhere else around the league. If it was your call, who would you have backing up Crawford?