ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers counts down the days to the opening of Blackhawks training camp on Sept. 19 with a look at 20 storylines facing the team this season.
The Chicago Blackhawks head into another season with the luxury of not having to worry about their No. 1 goaltender.
Corey Crawford has that spot locked down, especially with his six-year, $36 million deal going into effect this season. Crawford will be the first to admit he needs to be more consistent this season, but the Blackhawks also need the same from their backup goaltenders to have a successful regular season.
Antti Raanta and Nikolai Khabibulin didn't consistently provide the Blackhawks with stability when they stepped into the net for Crawford last season. Raanta and Khabibulin combined for an .887 save percentage (607 saves on 684 shots) in their 26 games last season.
Raanta, who agreed to a two-year contract extension in the offseason, is expected to start this season as the No. 2 goalie again. Some of his struggles weren't a complete surprise last season. He was rushed to the NHL quicker than the Blackhawks had hoped because of an injury suffered by Khabibulin. The original plan was to give Raanta time in the AHL to adjust to the North American game after playing his entire career in Europe.
Raanta, 25, actually held his own when Crawford went down with an injury in December. Raanta was the team's No. 1 goaltender for 10 games and allowed two or less goals in eight of those games and had a save percentage of .917 or higher in six games.
Raanta struggled in the No. 2 role when Crawford returned from his injury. Raanta played in nine games from Jan. 12 to the end of the season and had an .870 save percentage during that span.
"There were good games, a couple not so good games," Raanta said after the season. "It was like steady all the time, lots of good things happen. But the second half of the season there was too much ups and downs in the games and in the practice, so I think that was the main reason why I didn't get so much playing time in the last games. Of course, first year here and first year overseas out of the home country and like that, so there was lots of learning experiment."
The Blackhawks bolstered their goaltending depth by signing Michael Leighton recently. Leighton, 33, has a 35-41-14 record with a 2.97 goals-against average and .901 save percentage in 105 career NHL games. He played last season in the KHL, where he was 20-15 with a 1.74 goals-against average and .934 save percentage. He provides the Blackhawks with another goaltender with NHL experience if Crawford or Raanta are injured.
The Blackhawks also signed Scott Darling in the offseason. Darling, 25, showed potential in the AHL last season. He was 13-6-2 with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage for the Milwaukee Admirals. He ranked second in the league with six shutouts.