The next week may be the most difficult of the Chicago Blackhawks‘ season, as the team learns to play without its starting goaltender Corey Crawford. What seemed to be a team regaining its health has now, once again, become thin.
Without their top two goaltenders for at least two weeks (Nikolai Khabibulin will likely return before Crawford), it appears the Blackhawks will begin their five games in eight days stretch relying heavily Antti Raanta. However, Raanta cannot do it all and still perform. The team will have to rely on Kent Simpson for at least a couple of games, and with that, will need to perform at an elite level offensively.
A name outside of the top line that could potentially lead the charge is Kris Versteeg, who now appears to be fully acclimated back into the Blackhawks’ puck-possession style of play. The veteran Versteeg now also has the ability to emerge as a locker room leader, and a frequent member on the stat sheet.
If Versteeg can stay healthy, he should only continue to progress from the level of play that has seen him moved from the third line into the top six. Although the sample time is a bit small, the last three games have shown a more aggressive Versteeg.
Despite Versteeg always putting the puck on net, the points are now beginning to appear for Versteeg. Four points and one goal on six shots are impressive, but Versteeg has also gotten increased ice time, including limited time on the power play and penalty kill.
The next three weeks will be rough, but Blackhawks management is right to stick with the talent they have while Crawford and Khabibulin get healthy. In the meantime, the Blackhawks’ offense, whether they are mainstays or new acquisitions, will have to step up.
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