Blackhawks

Boyling Point: 5 things on my mind entering Blackhawks training camp

Boyling Point: 5 things on my mind entering Blackhawks training camp

Here are the top 5 things on my mind entering training camp.

1. Corey Crawford’s health: I know, it’s your biggest concern, too. The Blackhawks were in the playoff mix last season when Crawford was injured in late December. The Hawks attempts at finding a reliable back-up to Crawford never worked out. Emergency goalie and CPA, Scott Foster, turned in the most memorable performance in the Hawks crease and that inconsistent net play was a major reason why the team finished in last place. With Crawford’s status uncertain, the Hawks signed Cam Ward to a one-year deal in hopes of avoiding another revolving door in the crease.

I saw Crawford earlier this week and he looked great. I was told Crow was on the ice last week for the first time since last February and that it went well. After seeing and talking to Crawford at the Blackhawks convention in July, I wasn’t optimistic that he would be ready for the start of training camp.

Hopefully we will get a clearer picture of where Corey’s head injury is at and a timeline for a possible return to game action on Friday. If I had to guess right now, I would expect the Hawks to be very cautious with Crawford and I would not be surprised if he was unable to start the regular season.

2. Is Hank ready for the NHL?: Next to goaltending, the Blackhawks blue line also played a major role in the teams struggles last season. Stan Bowman did not add a top four defenseman this offseason. He did add Brandon Manning and brought Brandon Davidson in on a PTO. The Brandons join an already crowded battle for 5th, 6th and 7th defensemen. Which brings us to Henri Jokiharju, the Hawks' 2017 first round pick is only 19, but he will be given a legit chance to make this team. If he is not quite ready and the Hawks see him spending more time watching games from the press box, it would make more sense to send him to Rockford where the 19-year-old is expected to be eligible to play.

3. Who is Kane’s wingman?: It’s time to make Patrick Kane’s left wing line-mate a top priority. It seems at times the Hawks feel they can put anyone with Kaner and that he will make them better. Which is probably true, but will that forward help Patrick return to his MVP form? I have been lobbying for Alex DeBrincat to be that guy since late last season. Joel Quenneville avoided putting DeBrincat with Kane and Schmaltz last year when he was experimenting and the season was lost. He probably has an issue with the lack of size on that line. I think DeBrincat can complement Kane’s east/west style of play and deliver or one-time cross ice passes, which are such a big part of 88’s game.

4. Make Special Teams “Special”: It’s so hard to score in this league 5-on-5 and with the way the game is being officiated, it’s absolutely paramount to have a productive power play. Last year the Hawks power play ranked 28th in the league. Meanwhile the final four teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs were all ranked in the top 11 (TB-3rd, WPG-5, WSH-7, VGK-11). Maybe load up on one of the units with DeBrincat, Toews, Kane, Schmaltz and Gustafsson? Follow the Capitals blue print, setting Kane and DeBrincat at opposite circles, have Toews and Schmaltz work the slot and blue paint and have Gustafsson quarterback at the top of the umbrella. Allow these units time to build chemistry and don’t hit the blender the first time they go 0-for-4.

5. Who’s hungry?: Looking up and down the Blackhawks roster, it’s hard to find a player who is NOT looking to have a bounce back season. If you are not in the bounce back category, chances are you’re a young player like DeBrincat or Schmaltz looking to take the next step in your budding NHL career. Then there is a group of players like Dylan Sikura, Victor Ejdsell and Henri Jokiharju who are looking to prove they belong in the NHL and can be counted on to contribute with consistency. Jonathan Toews said the team was humbled by missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade and that what they’ve accomplished is in the past. “It’s time to start over,” Toews said. The Blackhawks final four players that have been a part of all three cup runs (Kane, Toews, Keith and Seabrook) are extremely prideful players and don’t take losing lightly. Look for their leadership to unify a mostly unproven group and allow younger players like DeBrincat and John Hayden to assert themselves as new leaders in the room.

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Jamal Mayers and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Corey Crawford’s season debut after missing nearly 10 months with a concussion.

Mayers talks about the Kitty system that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Vinnie Hinostroza probably dealt with in their returns to Chicago.

The guys also discuss what’s next for Crawford, the upcoming matchup against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Blackhawks’ biggest areas for improvement.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!

Four takeaways: Blackhawks suffer first regulation loss, but Corey Crawford looks sharp in season debut

Four takeaways: Blackhawks suffer first regulation loss, but Corey Crawford looks sharp in season debut

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center on Thursday:

1. Return of the Crow

The Blackhawks got their man back between the pipes after a 10-month layoff due to a concussion. And he looked like same old "Crow."

Crawford stopped 27 of 30 shots for a save percentage of .900. He faced 12 shots and eight scoring chances in the first period, but nothing too out of the ordinary. The biggest save he made was on a Michael Grabner breakaway in the third period, bailing out a turnover in the neutral zone.

"I think I felt better in the second and third," Crawford said. "But they really didn’t get that many opportunities early. It was nice. I think they flipped one in for the first one, so that was kind of good just to get in it and feel one early. We were close in that one all game and we created a lot. I thought [Antti] Raanta played really well.

"It was a tough, tough break at the end. Still felt I should have stopped that one. We were right there, we were creating a lot and gotta try to come up with that one. Just gotta forget about it and worry about the next game."

2. Alex DeBrincat, Jonathan Toews extend point streaks

The hot start continues for the Blackhawks' two leading scorers, both of whom assisted on Erik Gustafsson's goal in the second period to stretch their point streaks to six games. DeBrincat and Toews each have 10 points this season.

3. Overtime streak ends

The Blackhawks made history by forcing five straight overtime games to start the season, something no team has ever done in the four major sports (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB). But they didn't have the comeback magic in them this time.

Entering Thursday, the Blackhawks were 1-0-1 when trailing after two periods. They were 5-28-2 last season for a win percentage of .143.

4. Familiar faces, new places

Five former Blackhawks took the ice for the Coyotes: Vinnie Hinostroza, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jordan Oesterle, Richard Panik and Antti Raanta.

It was Hjalmarsson's first trip back to Chicago since being traded in the 2017 offseason. He received a nice video tribute during the second TV timeout of the first period, which made him very emotional.

"I almost got emotional too seeing his reaction," Toews said. "He's one of those guys you'll never forget what he meant to this locker room. He was a quiet guy in the room but we all know how he played and put everyone else before himself. Pretty cool reaction from the fans too. I think we were all sad to see him leave this locker room, he did a lot of special things and was a massive part of our championship wins. Happy for him to get that reception. It's well-deserved and obviously we miss having him around."

As far as the game, Hjalmarsson logged a team-high 22:18 of ice time and blocked three shots. Oesterle registered a secondary assist on Arizona's first goal, which was its first 5-on-5 of the season.

Hinostroza, who was also part of the Marian Hossa trade over the summer, scored twice in his return to his hometown, beating Crawford with a wrist shot to make it 2-1 in the second period and an empty-netter in the third; his second goal turned out to be the game winner, the fourth of his career and first as a member of the Coyotes.

Panik recorded four shot attempts (three on goal). And Raanta improved to 16-0-3 in his career at the United Center, a remarkable record for any goaltender in any situation.