Saturday, December 14, 2013
Raanta backing good fortune with solid play
By Mark Polishuk Special to ESPNChicago.com
TORONTO -- Antti Raanta couldn't have asked for more support to begin his NHL career. In his last six games (five of them starts), the rookie goaltender has enjoyed a whopping 29 goals from the Chicago Blackhawks' offense, including 19 in the last three games.
Antti Raanta is getting plenty of offensive support, but he's more than held his own in net.
But Raanta isn't giving too much thought to his good fortune.
"I just try to keep my own head and not think too much," Raanta said. "Usually if you start thinking too much you'll give up a couple of easy goals and suddenly you're the one losing games 6-2 and 7-2. I just try to focus on my own thing."
It isn't uncommon for goalies to lose focus when given a big lead, whether it's due to getting rusty from a lack of shots in their end or simply easing up on the mental gas pedal with their team comfortably ahead. Raanta, however, has more than held his own, posting a 2.12 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage in just under 397 minutes of action this season.
Normally, a third-string netminder with those kinds of numbers and an undefeated (5-0-1) record in regulation as a starter would be bigger news, but Raanta's contributions have been somewhat obscured by Chicago's hot scoring streak. Not that Raanta is complaining, as the 24-year-old still somewhat can't believe his good fortune.
"I just try to enjoy the moment and be as good as I can be," Raanta said. "I'm enjoying being here now, and this group of guys is so great. It's an unbelievable feeling sometimes."
Raanta looks to keep his job through at least the end of December with Corey Crawford and Nikolai Khabibulin still recovering from lower-body injuries. And while Crawford is in no danger of permanently losing his starting role, Raanta's performance could see him unseat Khabibulin as the Blackhawks' top backup, perhaps making Khabibulin expendable at the trade deadline.
Raanta's play has relaxed any worries that head coach Joel Quenneville had about turning to an AHL rookie.
"He's been a nice story for us," Quenneville said. "He's been a real good fit, came in in a tough spot for us and responded the right way. He got an opportunity to play and he's played extremely well. He's consistent, he's a battler -- you've got to like his attitude, he wants to be in there."