Sidney Brown brings his weekly dispatches from the front lines of Blackhawks fandom every week during the hockey season.
As the first month of the new year continues to develop, the Chicago Blackhawks continue to stand atop the NHL with a record of 29-7-9.
When applying credit for the great success of the Hawks there are many players to choose from. Besides the obvious candidates like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane there are other unsung heroes that are in need of recognition.
First in line for me is backup goalie Antti Raanta. Ever since his being called up in early November because of the injury to then-backup Nikolai Khabibulin, Raanta has done nothing but win games. Raanta’s story reminds me Antti Niemi in 2010, when he took over the reigns between the posts midway thru that season and wound up leading the Hawks to the 2010 Stanley Cup.
A key difference in this latest tale of goalie breakthrough is that Niemi began the ’09-10 season on the Hawks’ opening day roster, backing up Cristobal Huet, while Raanta was still in the minors at the beginning of this current season. Others have compared Raanta’s start as a Hawk to last year’s backup Ray Emery, now a member of the Philapelphia Flyers — that may not be such a bad comparison. As the old saying goes, numbers never lie (my apologies to ESPN2) Let’s take a quick look at Raanta versus Emery:
Antti Raanta (’13-14 season, 16 games): 11-1-3 record; Goals Against Average: 2.27; Save Percentage: .911
Ray Emery (’12-13 season, 21 games): 17-1 record; GAA: 1.94; SP: .922.
Next up is Patrick Sharp, who has been on fire in his last six games, scoring seven goals and two assists, including hat tricks on Dec. 27 against Colorado and Jan. 3 at New Jersey.
Sharp’s ability to see the ice and use his speed to strike defenses has allowed him to leapfrog long-time goal leader Patrick Kane for the team lead, Sharp currently has 25. Sharp only trails Kane in total points as well (45).
With the quality of his recent play, I’m willing to step out and put Sharp in the conversation for the Hart Trophy (MVP) along with Patrick Kane and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby. Captain Jonathan Toews and Kane have for so long received most of the attention on the team, and rightfully so, but Sharp should no longer be a forgotten man and his play has been paramount in keeping the Hawks at the top spot in the NHL in goals per game (3.7).
*First, to Kane, who was rewarded plenty in the past week. First, he was named the NHL’s first star for the month of December. For the month, Kane tallied seven goals and 16 assists for a total of 23 points. If that’s not MVP-type numbers then I don’t know what is.
Secondly, Kane was named officially to the 2014 United States Men’s Olympic Hockey team. Kane’s first Olympic appearance was in 2010 in Vancouver, where he helped the US bring home the silver medal. In this go around, the US is a favorite to bring home the gold, but they’ll have tough competition with team Canada. Good luck to Kane and his teammates next month in Sochi.
*My second set of props extends to the other nine Hawks that will join Kane in Sochi for next month’s Winter Olympics, a group that includes Sharp, who was recently announced as a member of Team Canada. Below is the complete list of 10:
United States — Patrick Kane; Canada — Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp; Sweden — Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya, Marcus Kruger; Slovakia — Marian Hossa, Michal Handzus; Czech Republic — Michal Rozsival.
Congratulations to them all.
*Last, but not least, props go to Raanta for being named co-rookie of the Month with Martin Jones of the LA Kings. Raanta posted a record of 8-1-3 for the month of December while maintaining a 2.23 goals against average and a save percentage of .912. If Raanta can keep up this pace, he should be among the nominees for the Calder Trophy for Rookie Of The Year at the end of the regular season.
Team Leaders (entering Saturday): Goals — Patrick Sharp (25); Assists — Duncan Keith (39); Points — Patrick Kane (54); Goals Against Average — Antti Raanta (2.27); Penalty Minutes — Brandon Bollig (61).
The Week Ahead (1/6-1/12)
Wednesday — vs. NY Rangers, 7 PM; Saturday — at Montreal Canadiens, 6 PM; Sunday — vs. Edmonton Oilers, 6 PM.
(All times Central)
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