Antti Raanta at the ready as Blackhawks’ new backup goalie
BY MARK LAZERUS Staff Reporter November 17, 2013 10:02PM
Updated: November 17, 2013 11:49PM
About three hours before game time Sunday, Antti Raanta arrived at the United Center, escorted through the bowels of the arena in a red golf cart.
It wasn’t exactly the cavalry arriving — the 24-year-old goaltender didn’t play against the San Jose Sharks — but Raanta figures to play a significant role in keeping the Blackhawks near the top of the Western Conference and, more important, keeping Corey Crawford relatively fresh as the season wears on.
‘‘We’ve got a seven-game trip starting [Tuesday], and we expect him to play on the trip,’’ Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. ‘‘I don’t want to say how many games he’s going to play, but he’s going to play some games.’’
Beleaguered backup Nikolai Khabibulin was put on long-term injured reserve Sunday, a day after he suffered a lower-body injury while straining for a shot by Shea Weber in Nashville. Khabibulin could be out ‘‘a bit,’’ Quenneville reiterated, meaning weeks, not days.
Raanta, the MVP of the regular season and the playoffs in Finland’s elite league last season, was a prized prospect last spring, and the Hawks beat out several other interested teams for his services. He struggled in training camp and gave up four goals in a shootout victory at Washington in the preseason. But his transition to the smaller North American rinks went better in Rockford, where he was 7-5 with a 2.83 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. He made 35 saves Saturday night in the IceHogs’ 4-2 win over the San Antonio Rampage.
‘‘He played very well last night, he’s coming off a big win, and he had some good games,” Quenneville said. ‘‘I’m sure he’s going to be excited about this chance, and we get to see him in practice, as well. It’ll be an exciting time for him, and we’re looking forward to see him play.’’
Hossa still out
Marian Hossa, a late scratch Saturday with a lower-body injury, was out Sunday, too. Quenneville said he was ‘‘hoping’’ Hossa would be available Tuesday night at Colorado.
Shaw’s big weakness
Andrew Shaw has had a very strong start to the season in just about every category but one: faceoffs. Shaw is a team-worst 42.5 percent at the dot and was a woeful 3-for-16 in the loss in Nashville.
‘‘Last night, I’d say it’s a huge concern,’’ he said. ‘‘But it’s like they say — you can’t learn overnight. It’s something you’ve got to keep working on and keep at it. Nashville’s a good faceoff team, but that’s no excuse. Just got to go out there and raise the compete level, I guess.’’
Retired former Hawk Yanic Perreault, one of the best faceoff men in the history of the sport, has been working with the Hawks a couple times a week. Shaw said Perreault is even planning to send video critiques and instructions to the Hawks while they’re on the road.