Nashville Predators

Lean on Me: Blackhawks' goalies providing necessary support

coreycrawfordblackhawksslidenew.jpg
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. 

Blackhawks will take OT victory but need sharper starts again

Blackhawks will take OT victory but need sharper starts again

Patrick Sharp’s backhand shot slipped past Pekka Rinne late in regulation. The Blackhawks’ push, which started midway through the third period, finally yielded them something and led to a 2-1 overtime victory.

The Blackhawks will take it, but it was the second consecutive game in which it took them two-plus periods and a deficit to get anything going. When the Blackhawks were scoring plenty in the first few games this season they were playing with energy and tenacity from the start and didn’t let up. As they continue through a tough stretch, they want to get back to that.

“They controlled a lot of the battle areas, came up with more loose pucks, we didn’t pressure it enough,” coach Joel Quenneville said of the first two periods against the Nashville Predators. “All of a sudden we had some zone time [in the third], got some momentum off that, scored the big goal by Sharpy. Certainly the last 15 minutes of the game, including overtime, that’s what we need to play like more often.”

Sure, Nick Schmaltz’s absence hasn’t helped. The Blackhawks have missed him, and they hope he’s back on Wednesday. But Schmaltz or no Schmaltz there’s enough firepower on this team to generate offense. So what gives? On Saturday there may have been early frustration against a Predators team that’s done that to them a few times.

“I think it was just tough sledding out there,” Sharp said. “That was a well-coached team, pretty disciplined through the neutral zone. I don’t think we exited the zone with possession too many times throughout the whole game so we had to grind it out a little bit I thought in the third period Joel mixed the lines up and got a little offensive zone time. Got a couple shots on net and able to sneak one in there. I still think we’re capable of scoring multiple goals a game. We can score a lot. That’s never a problem.”

It’s ultimately about creating opportunities or taking advantage of those given to you. Speaking of the latter the Blackhawks’ power play, or lack thereof, doesn’t help. In their best seasons the Blackhawks didn’t sweat power-play issues much because their 5-on-5 scoring was strong. When that 5-on-5 production dries up, however, the power play’s issues are magnified. They came up empty in six more power-play opportunities on Saturday night and are now 4 for 27 on the season.

In the Blackhawks’ last two home games they haven’t been offensively sharp out of the gate. It’s taken them quite a while to get going. On Saturday it worked out well but it’s not a habit they want to repeat often.

“We can’t be overly excited with this short little two-gamer at home,” Quenneville said. “I think that you get Schmaltzy back and you get some consistent lines and more predictable line mates. Maybe if we get that it’ll help push one another in the right way and get more consistency and speed in our game.”

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.