Is a goalie controversy already brewing for the Chicago Blackhawks?
The goaltending position may become a point of contention in the very near future, but not in the way that we're used to.
It's time to talk about Scott Darling.
Yes, we're only nine games into the 2014-15 NHL regular season. Yes, we're only two games into the NHL career of Scott Darling. Yet, through two games, it's already becoming apparent that he might be the type of guy that could make an impact for the Blackhawks this season.
We're not typically in the business of making sweeping declarations (even if mentioning the entire career of Daniel Carcillo somehow counts as doing just that). But this comment from Joel Quenneville following the Hawks' 1-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night adds a little bit of intrigue to the conversation of Corey Crawford's backup:
Scott Darling is working his way into #Blackhawks' goalie picture. Coach Joel Quenneville: "He gives us something to think about."— Chris Kuc (@ChrisKuc) October 29, 2014
Darling was strong during the preseason and then was recalled as a result of Crawford's injury at the beginning of last week. Whether we like it or not, the conversation of whether or not Darling or Antti Raanta should play second fiddle to Corey Crawford. This is both a credit to the play of Darling, even in such a small sample size, and an indictment of Raanta, who many aren't sold on, as likable as he may be.
Even with his struggles last year, Raanta has played quite well in his trio of appearances this year. He has a 2.03 goals against average and a .933 save percentage to his credit this year. At the same time, when one watches Raanta, there's a certain element of luck and his defense bailing him out. Rebounds were an issue. Some of that is true of any goaltender, of course, but he doesn't demonstrate the same type of confidence around the crease that you might get from Darling.
Not to mention size. Darling brings plenty, at 6'6", 232 and has looked quite confident in allowing just a single goal in each of his two starts for the Blackhawks this season. At the same time though, his NHL experience is minuscule, and as impressive as he's looked, he may need some additional seasoning in the AHL before we can truly assess whether or not he's the type capable of backing Crawford with any regularity.
There is really no indication of which way the Blackhawks could go at this point. With Raanta, you're going to get some strong performances, like last week against Philadelphia, but you're also going to get some stinkers where it's just chaos down around the net like we saw on multiple occasions last year. He could use consistent playing time down in Rockford, which is possible due to the fact that he's exempt from waivers. Darling isn't in a completely different situation. While his style might be better suited to back up Crawford, he could also use that type of time. It all comes down to what Joel Quenneville decides.
Does he continue rolling with Darling, who has looked very strong in two consecutive starts, while Raanta struggled to grasp any sense of calm in his most recent pair of starts? Or does he give it to Raanta, who has an edge in experience (however small it may be), and give Darling a full-time run in the AHL? There are plenty of pros and cons to each side, but we're going to get an answer soon for sure. Perhaps by Thursday, when Corey Crawford could return to mind the net.
In any case, it's only a matter of time before some fans are having the irrational conversation of Darling or Crawford. Either way, having both Darling and Raanta playing well is a good problem to have, and it adds some uncharacteristic goalie depth to the Blackhawks moving forward.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.