As I wrote earlier in the week, the key to determining the success of goaltender Antti Raanta is how he responds to his first tough outing. After a 7-3 throttling at the hands of the Maple Leafs, the Blackhawks return to the United Center tonight to take on the Los Angeles Kings and red hot goalie Martin Jones.
Raanta is expected to be back between the pipes tonight when the puck drops and this could prove to be a good thing. While the Hawks fell flat last night, Raanta had an especially tough game yielding 4 goals in the second period before being replaced by Kent Simpson to start the third. The good news is that Raanta and the Blackhawks will not have time to dwell on the loss with a matchup tonight against the Kings.
Earlier in the day Saturday, the Blackhawks acquired veteran goaltender Jason LaBarbera from the Edmonton Oilers for future considerations. The moves boosts the Blackhawks goaltending depth and will allow them to have a serviceable goaltender on the roster and return Kent Simpson to Rockford. The trade means that Nikolai Khabibulin is not close to returning and the team is not going to bank on him coming back anytime soon. It also gives the Blackhawks flexibility to send Raanta back to Rockford once Corey Crawford comes back so that he can get consistent playing time. At Raanta’s age and stage of development, it would benefit him to see regular playing time. Last night notwithstanding, Raanta has not looked out of place as an NHL goalie.
At the same time, it is imperative that the Blackhawks and Raanta tighten up their game tonight. Raanta’s response tonight against the Kings will give the Blackhawks a good measuring stick of where he is at. If Raanta struggles again, it could be a long few weeks for the Hawks and will diminish fans enthusiasm towards the Finnish netminder.