CHICAGO | The clock is ticking for Blackhawks backup goalie Jason LaBarbera to hop on the Rockford Shuttle and go back down to the American Hockey League.
With Hawks starter Corey Crawford not far from returning from a probable groin injury and rookie Antti Raanta playing well with an 8-1-2 record in his stead, there would seem no room for LaBarbera, 33, to continue with the Hawks.
Being a backup or on the cusp of even staying in the NHL is a role to which he has reconciled himself.
“I’ve kind of had no choice over the years,” LaBarbera said. “I’ve played behind a lot of great goalies. You obviously want to play and obviously want to be the guy. You miss that. I miss that for sure.
“But everyone finds their niche or finds their role in their career as they go along. For the last years, it seems to be what my role has been.”
After a 60-73-19 career record, LaBarbera still has the desire to start.
“I don’t know if you totally accept it, because you’re always hoping to be the guy who can play more than you can do,” he said. “But it’s all part of being a team guy. That’s my job. That’s what I have to do.”
LaBarbera was drafted by the New York Rangers in 1998. He also has played for the Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canukcs, Phoenix Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers, from whom the Hawks obtained him in a Dec. 14 trade.
LaBarbera will only be able to watch as Crawford begins skating in earnest after the three-day Christmas break.
“We expect him to practice in the next week,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said of Crawford. “We’ll have a better assessment of exactly when. He’s not that far away. He needs some practice, a little more exertion. We haven’t seen live bodies and pucks (for him).”
Thou shalt not allow shots: Ranking in the top 10 in fewest shots on goal allowed, the Hawks almost outdid themselves in allowing the New Jersey Devils just 12 shots in Monday night’s victory. The Devils had just two shots in the first period.
“I think that’s credit to team defense, not just the six defensemen playing the position,” said forward Patrick Sharp. “(It’s the result of) everybody on the ice committed to going back hard and protecting the net, forcing people to the outside.
“We got some good shot-blockers in here. Also we have a puck possession team so that might kind of skew the stats a little bit.”
Keith racking up the points: Defenseman Duncan Keith, eyeing another Norris Trophy, leads all defensemen and ranks fifth in the NHL with 30 assists.
Keith is second among NHL blue liners with 33 points. He recorded a season-high seven shots on goal against New Jersey Monday.
Push the up button: Center Andrew Shaw believes the Hawks have another level to reach as the schedule gets heavier from Friday through Jan. 3 with five games in eight days.
“I think we need to step it up,” he said. “There’s more in the tank for everybody. Everyone’s got that competitive edge. We got to come out hard, guarantee ourselves a (playoff) spot. We want to be in first place.”