For Anton Forsberg, the challenges were going to come early. It wasn’t just getting the start for the Blackhawks’ first preseason game, it was getting tested early and often in that game on Tuesday night.
A small sample size, but Forsberg had a strong preseason debut. And if he can continue off that start, he’ll be the latest in a successful run of backup goaltenders here.
With a young Blackhawks group in front of him, Forsberg was a steady presence in net. He stopped 38 of 40 shots in the Blackhawks’ 5-2 victory; that included 14 shots in the first period, when penalties added up and the Blackhawks were on the short end of a 5-on-3 for 54 seconds.
“It’s always nice to get a couple of shots. The first one hit my chest so I got the feel for the puck and I feel like it’s nice (rather than) standing there and waiting for the first shot,” he said. “It was coming a couple quick ones there right away. After that I was in the game and it was pretty easy to keep going.”
Coach Joel Quenneville said Forsberg looked comfortable immediately.
“For the guys who played in front of him, I think he showed a lot. Organizationally it was nice to see him battle through a lot of traffic and action around his net. He fought through a busy game and did an outstanding job,” he said. “It gives you confidence as well knowing, going forward, you’re comfortable in your new surroundings and go off of these levels, which would be a good beginning.”
The Blackhawks hope Forsberg is the latest in a recent line of successful backup goaltenders they’ve had. It’s been quite a run, from Ray Emery to Antti Raanta to Scott Darling. Forsberg’s NHL experience is minimal – he played in nine games for the Blue Jackets the last two seasons. But neither Raanta nor Darling had played an NHL game prior to joining the Blackhawks and clearly that didn’t prove to be an issue.
General manager Stan Bowman said in July, when the Blackhawks traded for Forsberg as part of the deal that brought Brandon Saad back, that Forsberg had earned the chance at the backup job. The Blackhawks signed Jean-François Bérubé on July 1 but, as of now, it looks like the backup job is Forsberg’s to lose. Whoever earns the job has to be prepared because the Blackhawks have had to rely on their backups for extended times. Corey Crawford has been sidelined several times in recent seasons, including last year when he missed nearly all of December with appendicitis – Darling started 11 consecutive games during that stretch.
“We know the emphasis on goaltending is huge and having confidence and trust no matter who’s in the net. For the team, just having that confidence in that guy in the net is a big factor. Coming in here early and demonstrating that can help him as well, getting comfortable with his teammates,” Quenneville said. “We’d love to see him continue on, knowing that he could be a big part of our team.”
Playing against his former team was motivation enough on Tuesday. But for Forsberg it’s about the opportunity ahead of him, not the one he didn’t really get in the past. The Blackhawks have done well in this department the last few seasons. If Forsberg can continue to advance past Tuesday’s start, the Blackhawks could have another strong 1-2 punch in goal again.
“It's always fun to play old teammates and my old team, but it’s a game and it’s my first game [with the Blackhawks]. I've got to [give] a good first impression and I do whatever I can to do that,” he said. “I felt like it turned out pretty well.”