Many story lines continue to unfold for the Chicago Blackhawks as the season moves onwards towards its second half. The schedule continues to fluctuate with periods, and the team strives to capture all the momentum it can, especially as it faces playoff-type atmospheres such as they did Saturday night against the St. Louis Blues.
However, the issue that continues to loom for the defending Stanley Cup Champions is the health of their top two (from a contractual aspect) goaltenders — the excellent Corey Crawford and his atrocious backup Nikolai Khabibulin.
Crawford is set to return from a lower body injury that has sidelined him for three weeks, and the Blackhawks schedule permits for him to return against offensively challenged competition with ideal spacing.
While slightly macabre, Nikolai Khabibulin’s injury setbacks are the best thing fans and management could hope for. Khabibulin’s cap hit is a massive 1.7 million dollars, but as long as he remains “injured” and away from the team’s active roster, the Blackhawks can afford to keep current starter Antti Raanta in the NHL. Raanta has been solid thus far, but showed fatigue for the first time thus far in Saturday’s loss to the St. Louis Blues.
Therefore, January should provide the Blackhawks with a full look at the goaltending pairing that will lead them in the race for the President’s Trophy. Crawford and Raanta should be able to find a happy medium, as in their NHL time this season, they have both been workhorses.
The Blackhawks play 18 games before the Olympic break in February including 14 January games. That includes eight games that are parts of back-to-backs, which Joel Quenneville the luxury of sharing goaltending duties or riding a hot hand. While Crawford is eased back in and returns to winning form, Antti Raanta can get a much-needed reprieve and create a combination what will benefit the already dangerous Chicago Blackhawks.
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