The last time a Blackhawks rookie goalie registered his first career shutout was March 5th 2008 when Corey Crawford blanked the Anaheim Ducks 3-0. Of course, Antii Niemi became the most recent rookie to notch his first shutout during Saturday’s 4-o win. It’s important to keep Crawford’s performance in mind, though.
That game was, by far, the most complete game the Blackhawks played during the 2007-2008 season. Crawford stopped a mere 19 shots and none of them were high quality. Here we are two years later and we’re still not sure what kind of goalie Crawford is. If we judged his career off that one start, though, then he’d probably be preparing his speech for his Hall-of-Fame ceremony in Toronto.
Saturday’s game was very similar to the March 5th tilt. The Hawks played an extremely impressive defensive game. Niemi faced no odd-man rushes and by the time he faced any sustained pressure, the Panthers were a couple goals down. Most of the shots Florida threw to the net weren’t of the highest quality, either. Yes, he made all 23 saves and he certainly deserved the shutout. The result was definitely better than the alternative 85% save percentage.
Does this mean, however, that the Hawks back-up goalie situation is all of the sudden solved? Absolutely not.
There are far too many things that Niemi has to prove before he can be considered anything more than a replacement level goalie. Can he keep the Hawks in games when they’re being outplayed? Will his rebound control improve? Can he play adequately when his team isn’t playing hellacious defense?
Those are all questions he should answer one way or another in the next month or so.
As for thinking there is some kind of ‘goalie controversy’ now, let’s look at this logically.
Say Colin Fraser or Tomas Kopecky has a better +/- than Jonathan Toews on Thursday, would the Hawks all of a sudden have a ‘1st line center’ controversy? Hell no. Toews has a track record of success at the highest level. He’s proven he can be a significant difference maker. You know who else you could say that about? Cristobal Huet. You know who you can’t? Antii Niemi.
So please, let’s see who he really is before we start annointing him our next back-up savior.
**On The Farm**
–Rockford opened up their season Sunday afternoon with a 3-2 overtime loss to the Peoria Rivermen. Danny Bois scored the first goal and assisted on Derek Nesbitt’s tally. Nesbitt also assisted on Bois’ goal. Mark Cullen and Bracken Kearns chipped in with assists. Goalie Joe Fallon stopped 31 of the 34 shots he faced.
—Shawn Lalonde had three assists and was a -2 in Saturday’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Windsor Spitfires. In five games thus far for the Belleville Bulls, Lalonde has three goals and four assists.
—Kyle Beach made his Spokane Chiefs debut last week with two goals and assist. On Friday night, he scored a goal against the Portland Winterhawks. Saturday night, he notched an assist in a 6-2 loss to the Tri-City Americans.
–2009 4th round pick Byron Froese had a goal and assist in the Everett Silvertips 4-3 opening day loss to the Seattle Thunderbirds. He had an assist in the team’s 4-2 win over the Vancouver Giants the following night.