Chicago Blackhawks: Relying on Antti Raanta Until January

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Chicago Blackhawks: Relying on Antti Raanta Until January
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Antti Raanta figures to be quite the busy rookie in net for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford's shadow may not grace the crease until 2014. Nikolai Khabibulin may have played his last game in net in the NHL.

This is far from the scenario that general manager Stan Bowman could have forecast when he put the Chicago roster together this fall.

For the time being, however, rookie Antti Raanta is making it work. But how long Chicago's perilous goalie situation remains above water is anybody's guess.

The Blackhawks have ridden Raanta to consecutive wins following the loss of Crawford to a lower body injury last Sunday against Florida. The 'Hawks believe that Crawford will be out of action for the next three weeks, based on coach Joel Quenneville's comments to Todd Willis of ESPNChicago.com.

If that assessment proves to be accurate, we can expect Crawford to miss at least 10 games, including some key Western Conference tilts at the end of the month. How will the current tandem of Raanta and Kent Simpson fare in his absence?

Raanta has started this stretch with two wins. Coming up for Chicago is a Saturday trip to Toronto followed by Sunday's game with the Los Angeles Kings in the United Center.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Raanta has not lost in regulation in five NHL starts.

Khabibulin has been on the shelf for nearly a month and doesn't appear close to a return. Bowman has resisted signing or trading for an experienced goalie. It looks like the team is satisfied with what it has in net for the next few weeks.

The comfort level in the immediate future rests on Raanta and how he continues to perform. The 24-year-old Finnish goalie should expect the bulk of the work between the pipes. It is difficult to imagine Simpson, who has all of 15 appearances in Rockford this season, seeing the ice more than once, if at all.

So far, Raanta has done his job, posting a 2.12 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage in seven appearances for Chicago. He has not allowed more than two goals in any of his games.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that the Blackhawks offense has staked Raanta with some sizable outbursts of late. With 19 goals in its last three games, Chicago can make Raanta's job easier by continuing to fill the net.

It will be interesting to see how Quenneville elects to use Raanta until he has another option. I would guess that Raanta starts both games this weekend. There is also enough time off in the schedule that Chicago could use Raanta exclusively if it feels it needs to.

Looming down the road are two tough games on Dec. 27 and 28. The 'Hawks host Colorado and travel to St. Louis in consecutive nights. That's a tall order for any goalie, much less one with the limited experience of Raanta or Simpson.

The prognosis must be fairly positive on Crawford for the team to bank on using two rookie goalies for the next couple of weeks. It is possible that the 'Hawks get one of their veteran netminders back before the start of the new year. Until then, it is Raanta's net, for better or worse.

UPDATE, Dec. 14, 1:00 p.m.: The Blackhawks have announced that they have picked up Edmonton veteran Jason LaBarbera for future considerations. Chicago has assigned him to Rockford of the AHL. I would imagine that the 'Hawks would rather have the 33-year-old LaBarbera backing up Raanta over Simpson at some point. We will have to see what the 'Hawks do in terms of their goalie situation moving forward.

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