DENVER — Corey Crawford wasn’t barraged with a ton of blame for Tuesday night’s 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. There was plenty to go around the whole Chicago Blackhawks group for that.
Still, it’s a long road trip, one that continues in Winnipeg on Thursday night. And since the Blackhawks want to integrate rookie backup Antti Raanta into the group, why not give him the start against the Jets?
The 24-year-old Finn couldn’t have had a more trial-by-fire start to his NHL career, coming in during the first period after Crawford allowed three goals against the Colorado Avalanche. As Raanta said afterward, “That’s it: The first game is now done. You don’t have to ask about pressure or anything else.” So after that indoctrination, the Blackhawks should throw him right back in there.
When it comes down to it, this really has more to do with Crawford’s need for rest more than anything else. Of the 22 games the Blackhawks have played, Crawford has appeared in 20 of them. He’s started 18 games, but in the last two games Nikolai Khabibulin started, Crawford had to relieve (one for performance, the other for injury).
That’s a lot of work already for Crawford, who played 57 games in each of his first two seasons with the Blackhawks.
Raanta, for his part, got past any anxieties fast on Tuesday because he really had no choice.
“Now I can put my nerves back to the hotel room and come here and be relaxed,” he said following the game. “A couple of times, I was thinking too much. I was feeling pretty good in the third period when I got a couple of saves. It’s OK now.”
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The Blackhawks have been successful against the Jets already this season. They’ve played strong games on both sides of the puck, and they need to do that again on Thursday night. Perhaps starting Raanta will give the Blackhawks the boost they need to correct their mistakes. After all, that’s the biggest reason coach Joel Quenneville put him in on Tuesday night.
“It wasn’t the goalie,” Quenneville said, referring to Crawford. “But we had to do something.”
The Circus Trip is just beginning, and the Blackhawks need to give Crawford a break here and there along the way. Vancouver looms on Saturday, and you’d expect him to get that start. Raanta handled a frenzied situation as good as can be expected on Tuesday. Give him a shot from the start on Thursday.