Blackhawks

Lean on Me: Blackhawks' goalies providing necessary support

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AP

Lean on Me: Blackhawks' goalies providing necessary support

For Corey Crawford, it’s all working pretty well right now. Good anticipation? Check. Lack of rebounds? Check. That glove, which used to draw so much criticism? It’s looking alright, too.

“He’s gotten off to a great start for us,” coach Joel Quenneville said following the Blackhawks’ 2-1 overtime victory over the Nashville Predators on Saturday. “Can’t say enough good things about him.”

While the Blackhawks reconfigure lines to relocate early production and swap right-handed defensemen in and out of the lineup, there has been one constant: their goaltending, particularly Crawford, has been (as Quenneville likes to say) reliable and dependable.

After a barrage of goals in their first two games the Blackhawks have leaned on their goaltenders more in the past four contests. Good thing that Crawford and Anton Forsberg have been up to it. Since he’s started all but one game thus far, let’s look specifically at Crawford: through Sunday afternoon he was tied for first in the NHL in victories (four, with several other goaltenders) and led the league in save percentage (.960) and goals-against average (1.39).

“I feel pretty good. I’m reading the play well, I think,” Crawford said on Saturday night. “Not too many second opportunities, either. If they are, they’re more to the side and I’m just seeing it well and not being overly aggressive. I’m waiting for the chance to be aggressive.”

Crawford has been sharp and busy. Through his five starts Crawford has faced 174 shots (34.8 per game). Only three other NHL goaltenders have faced more (Mike Smith has seen 211 shots through six games, Jake Allen 180 through five and Andrei Vasilevskiy 179 through five). On Saturday Crawford credited the Blackhawks’ defense for the Predators taking more shots from the outside. Sure, but opponents have had their share of odd-man rushes, breakaways and scrums in front of the net.

“I like him around the net,” Quenneville said. “He’s cutting off plays that they’re trying to make that could generate even more chances. His anticipation in that area has been outstanding, he’s been moving the puck well, he’s square and it seems like he’s very involved. A lot of good things have happened in a couple of games but Crow’s been rock solid.”

The Blackhawks are trying to find the right lines in Nick Schmaltz’s absence. They’re doing the eight-defensemen juggling act and trying to work everyone into the lineup. They’re once again struggling on the power play. When other parts of your game are a work in progress you need a constant. So far, the Blackhawks’ goaltending has provided that. 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are Blackhawks doomed to miss playoffs without Crawford?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are Blackhawks doomed to miss playoffs without Crawford?

Jesse Rogers (ESPN Chicago), Patrick Finley (Chicago Sun-Times) and Dan McNeil join Chuck Garfien on the panel.

Corey Crawford is reportedly suffering vertigo-like symptoms and there’s a chance he might not return this season. Are the Blackhawks playoff chances gone if he doesn’t come back?

Plus, the guys talk Bears coaches, preview Conference Championship weekend and Jesse discusses if the Cubs are saving their money for next winter’s big free agent class.

Listen to the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Why Corey Crawford situation is tricky for Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Why Corey Crawford situation is tricky for Blackhawks

The Blackhawks have been tight-lipped about Corey Crawford's status ever since he was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 27 with an upper-body injury, and it's fueled rampant speculation on social media about what's really going on. That came to an end on Tuesday when Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that there's growing concern within the organization that its star goaltender could miss the remainder of the season with vertigo-like symptoms. (Blackhawks senior adviser Scotty Bowman went on Sportsnet 590 The Fan on Wednesday to clarify it's post-concussion syndrome).

And while there's at least some clarity surrounding Crawford's condition, it's opened up more questions about what the Blackhawks may do going forward.

On Monday we broke down the unfavorable playoff picture for the Blackhawks going into the bye week, which was a glaring concern in and of itself. Add in the possibility that Crawford could be sidelined for the rest of the campaign and those chances absolutely diminish.

So what course of action should the Blackhawks take ahead of the Feb. 26 trade deadline? That's where the tricky part comes in.

Because of the nature of Crawford's injury, the Blackhawks aren't at a point right now where they want to put him on long-term injured reserve because that would require him to miss a minimum of 10 games or 24 days, and they're still holding out hope that he could come back within that timeframe. The problem with it is that nobody really knows. It could be days, weeks or months, and putting a restriction on that doesn't make much sense in the middle of a playoff run even though it would open up significant cap space.

Which brings us to our next point. There are certainly some decent rental goaltenders (Robin Lehner, Petr Mrazek or Antti Raanta, to name a few) on the market if the Blackhawks choose to go that route, but that might not be the wisest thing to do.

Given their spot in the standings and the chances Crawford could return, why risk giving up future assets for a playoff run that may not happen? It would be different if the Blackhawks wanted to add some insurance for the stretch run and postseason, but there's no guarantee it'll happen.

If the Blackhawks did, however, want to go that route, they would need to act quickly because there's no point in waiting closer to the deadline. Every point is crucial from here on out.

Perhaps the best and most logical idea is to stand pat.

Let it ride with Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass and hope they can hold the fort down until a potential Crawford return. Let the young guys continue to grow. Maybe add a defenseman to patch up the back end, but don't empty the tank. There's no reason to. The Blackhawks are hoping to sign highly-touted prospect Dylan Sikura after his college season ends, which would serve as a deadline acquisition by itself.

It will be tempting for the Blackhawks to be aggressive at the trade deadline in the wake of Crawford's injury, and they're surely already having these discussions as they continue to explore the different avenues. But this might be a rare case where doing nothing is the right way to go.