Cubs

Blackhawks breakdown: Corey Crawford

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Blackhawks breakdown: Corey Crawford

In his second full season of NHL duty, Corey Crawford played in 57 games -- starting 55 of them. His numbers suffered in every category as he went 30-17-7 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .903 save percentage and zero shutouts. He played every minute of the playoffs, compiling a 2.58 GAA and .912 save percentage, but giving up a pair of weak overtime goals in Games 3 and 4 that put the Blackhawks in a 3-1 series hole they couldn't get out of.

Boden's take: There is no hotter "hot button" on the Blackhawks this off-eason. He was the RFA who needed to be re-signed after his impressive rookie season and playoff series vs. Vancouver. He's the guy many of the same analysts feel a need to replace a year later after being pulled from a whopping seven starts. He showed flashes of that rookie form two or three times, but raised all these questions due to classic "Sophomore Slump-itis" with an assist from some ragged defensive coverage too often around him. He needed to come up with a big save and cover those teammates backs a bit more often.

Myers' take: Crawford entered last season with a new contract and the Blackhawks hopes that he would pick up right where he left off from Game 7 in Vancouver. Well, that didnt happen. Crawford started the season off well, making up for a defense that had its shaky moments right out of the gate. But then Crawford faltered and allowed too many soft goals. He said his confidence never wavered, but anyone watching him certainly had to question that. Crawford didnt really steal any games last season, nor did he record a shutout. It was a tough sophomore season for him, and had some questioning if he was the best No. 1 choice moving forward.

2012-13 Expectations

Boden: Here's the deal for all the fans wanting Crawford moved, "Pronto!": The Hawks aren't looking to deal him unless he's part of some multi-player blockbuster deal that not only brings a goalie back to replace him, but helps fill other needs. This league is filled with very good goalies who have had poor seasons, many of them sophomore seasons. The Hawks need -- and will find out if -- Crawford can grow out of it like the Carey Price, Pekka Rinne and Jimmy Howard (just to name a few) rather than to turn into Steve Mason. This season will determine that. They're not getting killed by the deal they signed him to (two more years totaling 5.3 million), and it will be a great investment if he bounces back. Corey's makeup is such that he'll do everything possible to assure that happens, but we won't know until the games resume. If he doesn't, Ray Emery had better be ready.

Myers: Can Crawford recapture his rookie year game again? He has to. The Blackhawks need that guy, the one who played more than 30 games down the regular- and postseason stretch, and was brilliant at it. I still say he does rebound, and the defense getting better in front of him will help that. But regardless, Crawford has to be able to stand on his head more. He needs some shutouts. He needs to repeat that freshman year, or the Blackhawks may be shopping for a new goaltender.

How do you feel about this evaluation? As always, be sure to chime in with your thoughts by commenting below and check out highlights of Crawford above.
Up next: Brandon Bollig

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

In the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull, Patrick Mooney and Tony Andracki close the book on the 2017 season following Theo Epstein’s press conference, looking back at what will go down as the craziest calendar year in Cubs history from last November through the team’s loss in the NLCS this October.

Moving forward, where do guys like Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Justin Wilson and Mike Montgomery fit? Will the Cubs re-sign Wade Davis or go after another proven closer? And how worried should fans be about the offense that completely disappeared in the postseason?

Take a listen below:

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Niklas Hjalmarsson's new home.

Brace yourselves, Chicago. It's going to be a weird site seeing Hjalmarsson in a different sweater other than the Blackhawks, where he spent his first 10 NHL seasons and won three Stanley Cups.

Now he serves as an alternate captain and blue-line anchor for the Coyotes, who are the only team still seeking its first win of the season. You know they'll be hungry to snap that skid, especially when there's extra motivation for a player on their team facing a bunch of old friends.

2. Connor Murphy returns to Arizona, too.

The man Hjalmarsson was traded for will also be returning to a place he called home for four years. Murphy's role with the Coyotes increased every year before he was dealt to the Blackhawks as part of a shake-up for both teams, so you know he's going to play with something to prove.

Murphy is a physical defenseman, and has laid several notable big hits this season. His former teammates surely know it, and may want to keep their heads up.

3. Patrick Kane 2.0?

Ever since he was drafted with the No. 7 overall pick in 2016, Clayton Keller has drawn comparisons to Kane. They're both undersized, offensive playmakers, possess supreme stick-handling abilities and are American-born players.

Keller got a brief taste of NHL action last year, but he's secured a full-time spot with the Coyotes this season and has been arguably their best player so far.

The 19-year-old forward paces all rookies with five goals and ranks second with seven points, and leads the Coyotes in both categories. Expect to see his name as a finalist for the Calder Trophy for the league's top rookie at the end of the season.