Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has been able to ride Corey Crawford in net for much of the last six weeks because of Crawford’s play and the team’s schedule.
Crawford started 14 of the Blackhawks’ last 18 games leading into the Olympic break. He had a 2.13 goals-against average and .929 save percentage during that span. The Blackhawks also benefited from a loose schedule with just four sets of back-to-back games during that span and one four-game week.
Raanta’s four starts during the last six weeks all came in back-to-back situations. He started Jan. 3 against the New Jersey Devils, Jan. 12 against the Edmonton Oilers, Jan. 23 against the Minnesota Wild and Jan. 28 against the Calgary Flames.
The entire season has been one of adjustments for Raanta, who previously played in Finland, and being an NHL backup is the latest. He began the season in the AHL adapting to a new style of game and different rink size, then was rushed to the NHL as a backup when Nikolai Khabibulin suffered an injury in November, then shortly after that was put into the starting position when Crawford was injured in December and now he’s been a backup for more than a month.
“It’s been good for him,” Quenneville said recently. “I think he’s adjusted very well to the NHL game, to the way we want to play. I think it’s a great learning experience for him. I think he’ll get better as we go along here as well.
“He’s been a real good pro, working his way through the whole process. He’s had different jobs and different responsibilities as we’ve gone along here. I think he’s gotten acclimated extremely well here in his first year, and he’s done a good job.”
Raanta got into a rhythm in December as he started 10 games in Crawford’s absence. He allowed two or less goals in eight of those starts and had a save percentage of .917 or higher in six games.
Raanta’s play has dropped since becoming Crawford’s backup again in early January. He’s had a 2.75 goals-against average and an .864 save percentage in his last four games. He saw 81 shots during that period and stopped 70 of them. In his last start, he was pulled in the second period after giving up four goals on 15 shots.
Getting back into the net more could help Raanta. The Hawks play four sets of back-to-back games and have three four-game weeks during the final six weeks of the season. Wanting to keep Crawford fresh for the playoffs could lead to more starts for Raanta.
Quenneville didn't know whether Raanta would get on the ice with anyone during the break -- he’s not allowed to work with any of the Blackhawks’ coaches -- but Quenneville was confident Raanta would be prepared to play again after the break.
“I’m not exactly sure what you can do,” Quenneville said about Raanta practicing during the break. “I don’t think there’s a lot of leeway. You know he works hard. I expect him to be keeping busy and getting ready to come right back fresh and energized, just as Corey has.”