The puck stops here: Corey Crawford nets second straight shutout for Blackhawks


The puck stops here: Corey Crawford nets second straight shutout for Blackhawks

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Blackhawks have been trending in the right direction in a few aspects of their game. Their power play still isn’t great, but it’s been responsible for the game-winning goal in two consecutive contests. Artem Anisimov, after a rough start, has a four-game goal streak which includes those two power-play goals.

But the constant remains Corey Crawford, who has gone from allowing very little to nothing at all.

Crawford’s been a big topic of conversation this season and for good reason. When the Blackhawks have sputtered he’s been stellar. That continued on Saturday night when Crawford recorded his second consecutive shutout, a 24-stop performance in the Blackhawks’ 2-0 victory over the Minnesota Wild.

Crawford now has a shutout streak of 131 minutes, 15 seconds; the last goal he gave up was to Colorado’s Rocco Grimaldi 8:45 into the Avalanche’s 6-3 victory over the Blackhawks on Oct. 28.

That’s all well and good for Crawford, but he still needs more help on the other side.

“He makes big saves, key times. We just need to help him out,” Anisimov said. “[Allow] less shots. Better defensive play, the whole team.”

No argument there. The Blackhawks allowed fewer shots but those they gave up were still pretty choice. Crawford started the third period stopping breakaways by Eric Staal and Jared Spurgeon. Nino Niederreiter thought he had a goal against Crawford in the first period – lights flashed and the horn blew – but the puck bounced off the post and went back to Crawford, who leg-swept it away.

“I saw it go off the post. You kind of know where [the puck] is, so sweep and hope for the best,” Crawford said. “I don’t know. A little luck, too, I guess.”

Sure, that never hurts. But most of Crawford’s work lately has been good, not lucky. As far as the Blackhawks’ offense, they’ve eked out enough; on Saturday it was Anisimov’s power-play goal and Alex DeBrincat’s empty-net goal. Not bad, but it could be better.

“We’d still like more production but at the same time the better you check the more offense you get off it,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I still don’t think we generated enough offense [vs. the Wild] but we didn’t mind the way we played without it. Some nights they go in.”

Alex DeBrincat records third career hat trick, but Blackhawks lose to Blues in overtime

Alex DeBrincat records third career hat trick, but Blackhawks lose to Blues in overtime

For Alex DeBrincat, it was probably nice to hear Chelsea Dagger again.

But how about three times?

The 20-year-old rookie snapped out of a 13-game scoring drought in a big way on Sunday night, recording his third hat trick of the season. DeBrincat did all he could to help give the Blackhawks two points, but they only came away with one in a 5-4 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues.

DeBrincat is now the first rookie in franchise history with three hat tricks in the same season, passing Steve Larmer. His last two hat tricks came against the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 27, 2017 and Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 25.

"It's pretty cool," DeBrincat said of his third hat trick, "but I wouldn't be able to do that without the guys we have in this locker room and the linemates I've had. Most credit to them."

Entering Sunday, his last goal was on Feb. 17 against the Washington Capitals.

"Obviously it's frustrating when you go through a slump that like that but what I've learned is to stay positive and there's other things you can help your team win with," DeBrincat said. "Just kind of focus on those things."

He netted goals No. 23, 24 and 25 on the season, tying Patrick Kane for the team lead. He is also tied for second among goals scored by a rookie this season.

DeBrincat opened the scoring with nice wrist shot on the power play to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead midway through the first. With less than a minute to go in the period, he tapped one home in front of the net to make it 2-0.

In the third period with the game tied at 3-3, DeBrincat put his team in front 4-3 with 3:13 left in regulation. 

“We were talking about [DeBrincat] today, it had been a while since he had scored," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But whether he scores or not, he does a lot of good things in the game, and he’s very aware of his positioning, and doing the right things, finding pucks, getting in shooting lanes, or denying passing lanes. So he’s effective in a lot of ways, but nice to see him score a nice power-play goal today.”

But Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo even things up again after a shot from the point found its way past J-F Berube with 1:22 left. Patrik Berglund would net the game-winner in overtime to hand the Blackhawks a loss.

"I feel like we’ve played well and we just came up a little bit short," DeBrincat said. "I feel like that’s been the theme of this whole season.”

The pros and cons of reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on Blackhawks top line


The pros and cons of reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on Blackhawks top line

Jonathan Toews' offense usually comes in spurts. We're seeing it again right now.

But it's no coincidence his numbers have spiked since Patrick Kane joined him on the top line.

After recording another two points in Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, the Blackhawks captain has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in his past eight games; he had 11 points in his previous 23 games total.

Toews also reached the 20-goal mark for the 11th straight season, joining Kane and Alex Ovechkin as the only three active players to accomplish that feat to open their NHL careers.

Kane has seen his offensive production pick up, too. He has 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in his past 13 games after going five straight without one, which was his longest point drought of the season.

When the two of them are on the ice together at even strength, they control 57.9 percent of the shot attempts. It hasn't quite translated on the scoresheet (14 goals for and 17 goals against) maybe the way it should, but they are certainly spending far more time in the offensive zone than the defensive end and are generating a high volume of shots.

So yes, reuniting the dynamic duo has worked stats-wise.

But it comes at a cost:

— Vinnie Hinostroza and Nick Schmaltz haven't scored in six straight contests.

— Alex DeBrincat's season-long goal drought is up to 13 games.

— Artem Anisimov's last even-strength goal came nine games ago.

When you put Kane and Toews together, you risk losing some balance across the lineup and that's why Joel Quenneville has always been reluctant to go to that nuclear option. He prefers when opposing teams are forced to play 'Pick Your Poison.'

Ideally, you'd like to spread out the scoring, but one thing is for certain: The Blackhawks are better when Kane and Toews are each producing offensively, whether they're apart or together. 

When the wins start to dry up though — and they have — that's normally when it's time to try something different.

Perhaps more importantly, the last thing you want are those scoring droughts mentioned above to stretch even further and get inside the younger skaters' heads, then carrying it with them into the offseason.