If you’ve been paying attention to Gone Puck Wild lately, and shame on you if you haven’t, then you know school has begun as Wild fans brush up on their knowledge of the new teams within Minnesota’s division. This week, that new team just so happens to be the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Going through Sunday, we’ll break down Chicago’s major additions and subtractions, strengths and weaknesses, prospect pool, 2013 draft class and team outlook.
Yesterday, we addressed the Blackhawks’ strengths. Today, we take a look at their weaknesses, but do the defending Stanley Cup champions have a weakness? In a word–yes.
Last season, the ‘Hawks were certainly helped by some great goaltending from Corey Crawford and Ray Emery, but rarely did either goalie have to steal a game for the win. Chicago’s skaters were tough, offensive and dominant, meaning their goalies just had to mop up behind them. It wasn’t until the playoffs that Crawford really had to earn his keep, and it didn’t help relieve any of the stress to know that, due to Emery’s injury, he was the only hope in net for a team expected to be the last one standing. Fortunately for Chicago, Crawford was up to the task.
This season, however, Crawford is clearly the man who will have to carry his team on his shoulders the whole way. With the departure of Emery, and the arrival of Nikolai Khabibulin, Corey is now the only legitimate starter in the fold. He’ll have to prove his mettle and put every goal scored on him out of his mind and in the past. That will be the biggest struggle as Crawford has been known to have skaters get inside his head. If he can focus, relax and concentrate, he’ll be fine–which is the last thing Minnesota Wild fans want.
So, we’ve identified Crawford and Khabibulin as Chicago’s No. 1 and No. 2 goalies, who’s manning the crease in Rockford? As of right now, it looks like it is Finnish MVP Antti Raanta’s for the taking. A prized free agent this summer, it was thought Raanta could make a push as an NHL starting netminder as early as this fall. Since Chicago’s prospect pool is lacking a legitimate future franchise goalie, it made sense for Chicago to sign the intriguing Finn. However, with the arrival of the “Bulin Wall”, Raanta’s NHL debut will be delayed until later in the season at the earliest.
Chicago’s biggest weakness lies in the hands of its starting goalie. Can Crawford be the man in net for the ‘Hawks? What happens when he goes down with an injury or loses his game? Is Khabibulin going to be enough behind him? These are the questions that will have to be answered once the puck drops on the 2013-14 season.