Goaltending, Gold Medals and Chicago
It’s been quite the start to 2014 for the Chicago Blackhawks. Goaltending scenarios continue to develop, nearly half the team awaited the announcement of Olympic national teams to see if they made the cut, and a Blackhawks prospect helped his team take gold at the World Junior Championships. Let’s take a look at how the year started for the Blackhawks.
Crawford In, Khabibulin Done
Corey Crawford returned to the Blackhawks lineup after missing 10 games and much of the month of December this past Thursday. Upon entering that game, Crawford was only 5 games out of the top spot in the league for most wins – a testament to how great of a season he had to finish 2013. He lost his first two games back, interrupted by a 5 – 3 victory grabbed by backup Antti Raanta, but should return to top form very soon. Nikolai Khabibulin, on the other hand, underwent surgery Tuesday on a torn rotator cuff that sidelined him since November for Chicago. The team lists his recovery at four to five months, indicating that he is likely finished both for the Blackhawks and the National Hockey League due to his one-year contract ending after this season. Raanta will be Crawford’s goaltending partner for the remainder of this season.
Olympic Teams Named
Ten Blackhawks were named to Olympic teams this week with some expected outcomes and some surprises. Patrick Kane was the lone Blackhawk named to Team USA, though Brandon Saad is rumored to have barely missed the cut. Patrick Sharp, Jonathon Toews and Duncan Keith were named to Team Canada Tuesday morning, while Brent Seabrook found himself missing out this year. He was a bubble player who won gold with Canada in 2010 but didn’t seem to make the cut for Mike Babcock and the coaching staff this year. Crawford had potential to make the team but his injury throughout December was likely the deciding factor in his missing out.
Marian Hossa and Michal Handzus found themselves named to Slovakia’s national team for Socchi while Michael Rozsival will represent Chicago for the Czech Republic. Defensemen Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson will join forward Marcus Kruger in Sweden for the Winter Olympics.
Teravainen Developing Well
Blackhawks 2012 first-round draft pick Tuevo Teravainen helped Finland win its first gold medal since 1998 at the World Junior Championships last week, promising to fulfill a slew of responsibilities when he returns to play in Chicago. Teravainen led all skaters at the 2014 IIHF U20 World Championships with 13 assists and 15 points in seven games. Chicago sent Teravainen overseas to develop until they saw him as a good fit into the squad at the United Center.
An already advantageous start to the calendar year, Chicago should fare well in the second half of the season. Riding the waves of Sharp’s Hat Trick Fever and Kane’s point-scoring streaks, activating defensemen onto the scoresheet, and finally (hopefully) returning to a normal goaltending scenario could make for an exciting sprint for the postseason in Chicago.