The acquisition of Jason LaBarbera by the Chicago Blackhawks was, in retrospect, a puzzling decision. The veteran LaBarbera has officially been recalled from the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL, and now he and his rather large contract are on the Blackhawks’ active roster.
But will he start? The Blackhawks, frankly, have not had a competent backup all season, aside from current starter Antti Raanta. He has shown rapid growth at the NHL level, and has stepped up as both Corey Crawford and Nikolai Khabibulin succumb to injury.
And while Khabibulin remains on the long-term injured reserve, Crawford is on track to return three away from the injury he sustained Dec. 8. That would set Crawford up for a return against the Los Angeles Kings in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference Finals.
Simply put, the Blackhawks should have already made it clear, despite switching backup goalies, that Raanta will be the man in net until Crawford is 100 percent. Thanks to a lightened schedule as well, the Blackhawks can monitor Crawford’s rehab closely, and not feel the need to rush things.
The Blackhawks have had no problem giving their goalies a large workload, and that has not changed since Crawford and Khabibulin went down. Raanta has looked excellent and shown no signs of fatigue during the hardest part of the Blackhawks’ schedule, so there is simply no reason to give him a night off.
That being said, LaBarbera has frankly not been good. In seven games this season, the aging goaltender has only been 1-3-0 and has allowed 3.28 goals per game to go along with a measly .870 save percentage.
That, coupled with a very important last week of December in which the Blackhawks will play three games in four nights, means that Raanta will rightly stay in goal until Crawford is set to return. Only after that, with a two-game road trip Jan. 2 and 3 (which would mean Crawford has not returned) against bad competition, would it be a safe play to start LaBarbera.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486.