Tonight’s game for the Chicago Blackhawks marks an important decision for Coach Joel Quenneville. The Los Angeles Kings come into The United Center on a six game winning streak, and the Blackhawks, frankly, may be fatigued.
Depending on the team’s performance tonight, goaltender Antti Raanta may be in need of a rest. Raanta has performed admirably in his NHL debut since taking over for both Nikolai Khabibulin and Corey Crawford due to injury. That being said, the Blackhawks’ defense has put the netminder in a position where he is seeing an increased number of shots and a workload that is even harsher than Crawford once faced.
The Blackhawks’ defensive core is largely to blame for this, as they have allowed 31 shots per game over the last four contests. Despite winning three of their last four, the schedule has made that number quite concerning.
The Blackhawks play the second leg of a back-to-back tonight, and Tuesday against the Nashville Predators will mark three games in four nights for a reeling Blackhawks defense that now ranks 19th in the league, allowing 2.77 goals per game.
A change in net can do plenty to stimulate the defense before the team gets a much needed reprieve schedule wise. Luckily for the Blackhawks, Nashville ranks in the bottom third in the league in goals per game, shots per game, and win percentage when being outshot.
With the Blackhawks stopping home tonight, they can also make a change in net by calling up new acquisition Jason LaBarbera and demoting Kent Simpson. Simpson is intriguing as a prospect, but experience wise, he proved he wasn’t NHL ready by allowing two goals on seven shots in relief of Raanta last night.
LaBarbera was acquired for depth at a hefty price, so the organization needs to get the most out of his services. That, coupled with Simpson’s inexperience and a weak Nashville offense, should provide LaBarbera and the Blackhawks with the best opportunity to succeed.
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