Corey Crawford

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

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USA TODAY

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

Anton Forsberg had just finished an extended morning skate Wednesday morning in St. Louis. The backup goaltender had played in one regular-season game for the Blackhawks to that point, so getting in extra work to stay sharp was helpful.

“I try to keep my focus in practice and work extra every day, get a few extra shots in practice with the extra guys who are out there, work with Jimmy and try to keep my game shape,” Forsberg said, referring to Blackhawks goaltending coach Jimmy Waite.

Whatever Forsberg’s working on in practice and skates seems to be working, because in two games with the Blackhawks he’s looked sharp. Forsberg probably deserved a victory on Thursday night when he stopped 40 shots in the Blackhawks’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers. It’s the backup life to wait and see when that next start will come, but Forsberg has been ready.

“For sure I felt more comfortable today, more used to the speed,” he said following Thursday’s game. “I felt I read the game better, felt I had more time moving around. It’s tough, again, to lose in overtime. Obviously I wanted to win and it’s frustrating.”

Frustrating for sure, but Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they want and need: a dependable backup that gives them a chance to win. The two goals Forsberg gave up on Thursday weren’t softies, either — Patrick Maroon’s goal off a ridiculous Connor McDavid pass and Mark Letestu’s over game-winner that deflected off Brent Seabrook’s stick.

“He kept us in a tight game like he did in Toronto, got us to overtime. I kind of feel bad we didn’t get him a win in either of those,” Ryan Hartman said. “He played well both of those games. It’s nice to have a guy on the back end like that.”

Forsberg has blended in well with the Blackhawks. It helps that he already knew two of them, Brandon Saad and Artem Anisimov, his former teammates in Columbus. He and Corey Crawford already have a good rapport. Same goes for he and Waite, and Forsberg has soaked up any information they’ve given him.

“I feel like both him and Corey teach me a lot. We talk about different situations, especially all the reads,” Forsberg said. “I get to know how (Crawford) thinks the game. He’s been around a long time and has been doing well, so it’s interesting every day to hear what he has to say. Even Jimmy’s been around same thing there, discussing my game, what we want to improve, what we want to do different, what to keep the same and go from there.”

The extra work in practices and skates appears to be working as Forsberg has done a lot right in just his first two games, which were 10 days apart. The Blackhawks have had a good run of backup goaltenders; two games is a small sample size but Forsberg could be the latest reliable backup.

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. 

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 overtime win over Predators: How long can Brandon Saad keep this up for?

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 overtime win over Predators: How long can Brandon Saad keep this up for?

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 2-1 overtime win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday night:

1. Corey Crawford stays sharp.

It was another busy night for the Blackhawks netminder, and he was on his A-game yet again from the moment the puck dropped.

Crawford made 29 of his 37 saves in the first two periods, and allowed only one goal for the fourth time in five games this season to up his season save percentage to .959.

"He's gotten off to a great start for us," Joel Quenneville said. "Can't say enough good things about him."

2. Slow start, strong finish.

The Blackhawks had 17 shot attempts in the first period, 11 of which were on goal, while the Predators peppered 32 attempts towards the net and got 18 on goal. It was an unorthodox start for the Blackhawks, who are outscoring their opponents 11-1 in the opening frame so far this season.

Seven of their eight high danger scoring chances allowed came in that period as well. If it weren't for Crawford, as mentioned above, it could've been a different result through 20 minutes.

3. Can Brandon Saad keep this up, and for how long?

The Blackhawks could not have envisioned a better start for Saad in his second stint with Chicago. He opened the season with a hat trick, and has recorded at least a point in five of six games.

He scored the overtime winner in this one after burying a perfect pass from Patrick Kane, and has now scored the game-winning goal in all four Blackhawks wins this season.

Saad is on pace for 82 goals. Is that doable?

"I don't know," Saad laughed. "I just try my best and do what I can. It's been fun so far."

4. Power play goes quiet.

The Blackhawks scored a power play goal in each of their last four games entering Saturday, but it dried up against Nashville.

They went 0-for-6 on the man advantage, and struggled to create any type of quality scoring chance despite recording eight shots on goal during them.

What needs to change in that area?

"More of the boring quotes that we're going to give you," Patrick Sharp joked with the media. "They're quotes because it's what works. Quick puck movement, more shots, traffic to the net. We feel like we're entering the zone okay, but we're just breaking out too many times, we're not sustaining pressure and generating a whole lot of scoring chances.

"I'm sure the next few days we'll talk about getting pucks to the net, screening the goalie, getting those second and third chances."

5. Pekka Rinne picks up where he left off.

The visiting goaltender wasn't too bad, either.

In four playoff games against the Blackhawks last year, Rinne allowed just three goals and had a .976 save percentage, including two shutouts in back-to-back games at the United Center.

He picked up right where he left off, and appeared to be headed for a third straight shutout in Chicago until Sharp got the Blackhawks on the scoreboard with 6:36 left in the third period.

Rinne finished the game with a season-high 33 saves.