In my other life, I'm the Executive Producer of the Spiegel and Holmes Show on 670 The Score. On the show, we have a system called TCL, or Team Concern Level. Once a week, we update the listeners on where our TCL is for each Chicago team. For instance, with Derrick Rose out for the season, the Bulls' TCL is at an all time high of 10. Meanwhile, the defending Stanley Cup Champions continue to roll along, picking up points and playing their dominant, puck possession game. For much of the season, the Hawks' TCL had been very low, around 0 or 1, but recently, one area had me a little more concerned that usual.
Before Wednesday's 3-2 win in Calgary, the Blackhawks' backup goalie situation was a huge question mark. While Corey Crawford has proven to be a Stanley Cup goaltender, he can't be expected to play all 82 games.
This summer, when the Blackhawks signed veteran goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, fan reaction varied widely. There was outrage, laughter, curiosity, and even some excitement. Well, Khabibulin's season has been a complete disaster. His numbers look like something from the old Sega Genesis NHL 94 game. His 5.01 GAA and .811 save percentage are absolutely putrid. Many of the game he did appear in, he was quickly pulled, and Crawford would have to finish. In fact, Crawford had played in 15 consecutive games before his night off last night.
That brings us (finally) to Antti Raanta. The Hawks signed the sought after Finnish MVP this summer, but he started the season in Rockford to get accustomed to the smaller, North American rinks and style of play. When Khabibulin was injured in Nashville on November 16th, Raanta got the call, and made his first career start in Calgary Wednesday night.
Raanta looked sharp for much of the game, stopping 2o of 22 shots. Raanta showed poise and aggression. He was quick to challenge shooters and would confidently come out of his crease to face shots. There was a sense of calm in his game that one wouldn't expect from a player making his first NHL start, especially knowing that the backup job could be his to win.
One game does not a season make, obviously, but if Raanta can put together games like he did last night, the Hawks will have solved their backup problem. They only need him to be average. If he stops the shots he should, and makes a big save or two a night, the job will be his.
So far, so good from the kid from Finland.