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Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Hawks start road trip on wrong foot

By Brent W. New
Special to ESPNChicago.com



DENVER -- Rookie goalie Antti Raanta admitted he was nervous in his first NHL action -- a couple laps around the Pepsi Center rink past nervous, actually.

Two days after the Chicago Blackhawks recalled him from the Rockford IceHogs, the 24-year-old native of Finland said he felt a little shaky at times against the speedy Colorado Avalanche attack -- even overthinking a couple of situations on the ice, instead of just playing the relaxed game that has earned him a trophy case full of awards over his short career.

Unfortunately for the Hawks, Raanta may be the least of their problems as they continue on their seven-game road trip.

Antti Raanta
Antti Raanta made 14 saves during his NHL debut Tuesday, but it was a lost cause as the Blackhawks were bullied by the Avalanche.
Starting goalie Corey Crawford was pulled late in the first period; the offense couldn’t push much past Avalanche starting goalie Semyon Varlamov all game; and the Blackhawks lost 5-1 despite outshooting the Avs 37-23.

On top of that, Bryan Bickell was injured in the first period and did not return.

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville -- who was all smiles about the idea of facing his former player, Patrick Roy, on the opposing bench when he arrived at the Pepsi Center -- left the arena later Tuesday night miffed with what he saw.

“We gave them the first couple of goals when we had the puck and it ended up in our net. And we couldn’t buy a goal in that second period,” said Quenneville, alluding to a period in which the Hawks controlled the scoring chances nearly throughout. “Their goalie played well tonight.”

The Hawks’ attack helped Varlamov out, too. With point-blank misses at a season high, only Brandon Saad’s back-to-the-goal attempt proved true for a team that didn’t score at least two goals for the first time all season.

“Well, obviously that goalie played pretty good over there,” said Kris Versteeg, who was reunited with the Hawks on Friday after he played with the team from 2007-10 and was a key part of the team during its Stanley Cup in 2010. “But I thought we out-chanced them and outshot them, and just got some unlucky breaks that didn’t go in the net.”

The defense, meanwhile, is a different story. Its play probably can’t be labeled “unlucky.” The defending Stanley Cup champs are 22nd in the league in goals against and have given up at least four goals in four of their past five games, which included a similarly excruciating 7-2 loss to the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Looking past the second rough night in four days for the Hawks, the panic button hasn’t been pushed.

“Everyone in here has won. They know what it takes to bounce back after a night like this,” Versteeg said. “I think everyone will be ready to go next game.”

Next up, the Hawks will travel to Winnipeg to face the Jets on Thursday.

Injuries piling up for the Hawks: Blackhawks winger Bickell joined the growing list of injured Blackhawks players after he went back-first into the goalpost during the first period Tuesday.

Bickell did not return after suffering a lower-body injury, coach Joel Quenneville said after the game. The team expects to know more about the severity of the injury on Wednesday.

“We’ll see more tomorrow and get a better assessment of it,” Quenneville said. “It could be a bit or day-to-day.”

The Hawks already are without goalie Nikolai Khabibulin for some time, while Marian Hossa has missed the past three games and is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury of his own.