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Monday, December 2, 2013
Raanta helping keep Crawford fresh

By Scott Powers

CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford never admitted to being tired while he made 15 consecutive appearances, but he was willing to say Monday he was pleased with some recent time off.

Rookie goaltender Antti Raanta started in place of Crawford twice during the Blackhawks' seven-game road trip. Crawford said Monday he believes having a reliable backup will benefit him and the team going forward.

"It'll definitely be good," Crawford said after practice. "We have a lot of back-to-backs. It's definitely helped with a little more energy. [Raanta has] played well, too, and we were able to get some wins. [Blackhawks coach] Joel [Quenneville] probably won't be shy to put him in once in a while.

"I think it's only good. It worked well for us last year with [Ray] Emery, having two guys going."

Crawford and Emery split the starting duties close to 60/40 last season. Crawford started 28 games, and Emery started 19 games in the lockout-shortened season.

Crawford is still expected to carry a larger load of starts this season, but Raanta's early success could give Quenneville more confidence to turn to him whenever Crawford appears tired. Raanta is 2-0-0 with a 2.16 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in three games this season.

"We're fine with our goaltending situation," Quenneville said. "Antti coming in playing two solid games for us, and he played well in Colorado as well. It's been a good start to his career. He's really helped us solidify a situation for us."

Quenneville announced Crawford will start against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday. Raanta could start again when the Blackhawks have another set of back-to-back games on Thursday and Friday.

Bickell improving: Quenneville said forward Bryan Bickell (lower-body injury) is improving, but there wasn't a timetable yet on his return.

"Bick progressed on the trip, but he's still a little bit away from jumping on the ice," Quenneville said. "There's some progress there."

Bickell has missed the Blackhawks' past six games due to the injury. He has five goals and one assists in 22 games this season.

Memorable month: The Blackhawks' Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp each were among the league's top-15 points leaders in November.

Kane finished second for the month with 19 points, Keith was tied for sixth with 16 points and Sharp was tied for 11th with 15 points.

Keith and teammate Brent Seabrook also tied each other for the league's best plus/minus rating for the month. They both had a plus-15 rating for November.