The numbers in the early going are gaudy, for sure.
Two games, 15 goals for a Blackhawks offense that has easily worked in Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp again and has struck upon a dynamic duo with Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane.
Lost in the shuffle of all of this, however, are equally strong numbers on the other end of the ice. While the Blackhawks’ offense has been overwhelming at one end, Corey Crawford has quietly done stellar work at the other. He’s allowed just two goals in two games and — the sample size being what it is at this point — has gotten off to as strong a start as he did last fall.
“I mean, he made several key saves,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I like him around the net. 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 seems like he’s very involved. A lot of good things have happened in a couple of games, but Crow’s been rock solid.”
Nobody pictured the Blackhawks putting up 15 goals in their first two games. The sizeable leads, including the Blackhawks’ 5-0 first-period edge over Pittsburgh on Thursday night, have meant less worry. But Crawford said there’s a fine line between being happy with a lead and being comfortable.
“It’s nice to have a cushion, but sometimes in those games it’s easy to let up and try not to let up and let them back in the game. That’s the way we want to start, and we’ve been good in all areas,” Crawford said. “I know we scored a ton of goals, but our defense has been great moving the puck up, getting in the rush, ending plays quick in our zone. Every aspect of our game right now is looking good. We just have to keep that momentum going.”
Crawford usually credits the defense for his victories, and it has played its part. But the Blackhawks’ propensity to get a little scattered in the second period occurred again in their first two games. Both times Crawford was strong, denying breakaways and second opportunities. Crawford talked in the preseason about always working on little things with goaltender Jimmy Waite, and that will continue.
“Sometimes you might not be feeling good in one part of your game. We might work on that in practice. The first two games have been pretty good. I’ve been able to be aggressive when I had to, read it, be patient and stay back a little more on other plays,” he said. “For us, it’s a great start. We’re going into a tough building now against a high-scoring team (Toronto on Monday) and it’s going to be a fun game for us.”
Yes, Toronto also has 15 goals in its first two games, but will Crawford start against the Maple Leafs? Based on his first two performances this season it’s easy to say yes, but remember Tuesday’s game is in Montreal and Crawford has always been spectacular against the Canadiens: 7-0-2, with a 1.55 goals-against average and a .951 save percentage.
Offense has been plentiful, but those numbers are going to deflate at some point. Crawford will once again be critical to the Blackhawks’ success, and he is once again getting the necessary start.