Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Patrick Kane shines in hometown as Blackhawks have offensive explosion

Four takeaways: Patrick Kane shines in hometown as Blackhawks have offensive explosion

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 7-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center on Friday:

1. Patrick Kane shines in hometown

When Kane returns to Buffalo, he usually puts a show on in front of his hometown crowd. Well, he did it again.

Just 50 seconds into the second period, the former Hart Trophy winner scored his 30th goal of the season, which happened to be his 900th career point in the NHL. He's the fifth player in Blackhawks history to reach that mark. And he didn't stop there.

Kane later added two assists and an empty-net goal for his third four-plus point outing in five games, and seventh-multi-point effort in his past nine games. He extended his season-long point streak to 10 games, and has 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) over that span coming off a month in which he was named the NHL's third star of January.

With the four-point game, Kane went from fifth to second in the NHL with 75 points. He trails only Nikita Kucherov (79) for the league lead. 

2. Cam Ward rises to the occasion

The Blackhawks may have scored seven goals, but it's hard to see them winning this game without Ward's performance. He stopped 40 of 43 shots for a save percentage of .930, and did his best to hold down the fort in the third period when the Sabres were outshooting the Blackhawks 11-0.

On the other side, Carter Hutton allowed four goals on 22 shots for a save percentage of .818 and was replaced in the third period by Linus Ullmark, who gave up two goals on seven shots for a save percentage of .714. Ward out-did both of them.

3. Answering back

After scoring the first three goals of the game, the Blackhawks gave up their first goal with 1:55 remaining in the middle frame that cut their lead to 3-1. But 1:34 later and 20.6 seconds before the period expired, Brandon Saad scored for the fourth time in five games to give his team a three-goal lead again. It was a great response.

But the Sabres came out of the third period flying, and scored twice within a 3:37 span to cut their deficit to 4-3. It felt like they were going to tie it up at any second.

But Connor Murphy scored his second of the season with 8:36 left in regulation that essentially iced the game as Kane eventually scored the empty-netter, and Saad added his second of the game with 46 seconds left. The Blackhawks never allowed Buffalo to even it up, and kept the Sabres at bay.

4. Shaking off a slow start

Going into Friday, the Sabres had already played in two games since the All-Star break. The Blackhawks were on a nine-day hiatus. And it showed early on.

The road team didn't record their first shot on goal until the 5:53 mark of the opening frame, and were outshot 14-7. Despite that, the Blackhawks got on the board first when Drake Caggiula scored his first goal as a member of the Blackhawks with 1:22 remaining.

Caggiula also added two assists for his first career three-point game and fourth multi-point effort of the season, his first with Chicago. He was finally rewarded on the scoresheet.

Corey Crawford acknowledges he's ready to return for Blackhawks

Corey Crawford acknowledges he's ready to return for Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are back within two points of a wild card spot, and they may finally be getting their star goaltender back soon.

After joining the team on the ice for the fourth time in a week, Corey Crawford met with the media on Friday and acknowledged he's essentially ready to come back. But it's not up to him when he'll actually return.

"It's really hard to say," Crawford said. "It's not up to me. I'm healthy to play right now. Really it's whether they think I'm ready to get in the net."

The Blackhawks have won eight of their past nine games, and have gotten terrific goaltending from Collin Delia and Cam Ward. There's no urgency to rush Crawford back, but if he's ready, he's ready and he basically serves as a trade deadline acquisition on his own.

"We've been playing great," Crawford said. "I think that's a tough situation too. Obviously you don't want to come back in and [not] be at the top of my game. We're in a pretty good run right now, a pretty good stretch. It's really thinking about what game do you throw me in? I'll leave that up to Jeremy [Colliton]. Whenever they want to, I'm ready to play."

Colliton was asked about Crawford's potential timeline and said there will be discussions internally about when he will be back between the pipes for the Blackhawks. All we know is, that won't come on Saturday against Columbus. But it likely will be very soon.

"It’s good to hear he’s feeling good," Colliton said. "That’s good. We’ll discuss it in the staff and let you know.”

Breaking down why Cam Ward has been better than his numbers show with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Breaking down why Cam Ward has been better than his numbers show with Blackhawks

If you look at Cam Ward's stat line this season, his numbers don't look great. In fact, they aren't very good.

His 3.60 goals against average ranks dead last in the NHL among goaltenders with at least 20 starts, and .898 save percentage ranks 39th out of 47th. But there's a reason for that.

Ward is facing 9.4 high-danger chances at even strength per game and a shade above 11 in all situations, according to naturalstattrick.com. No other goaltender is seeing that many quality of shots at that rate. Couple that with the fact that the Blackhawks are giving up the second-most shots in general (35.4) and the numbers simply won't favor the goaltender, no matter who's in net. 

On Thursday against the New Jersey Devils, Ward faced 19 total high-danger shots against. He stopped all 19 of those. He also turned aside 35 of 36 shots at 5-on-5 to up his season save percentage to .922 in that area.

Where Ward's overall save percentage has taken a big hit this season is the penalty kill. He's given up 26 power-play goals on 122 shots against for a .787 save percentage. Some of that is on him. But the Blackhawks statistically have the worst penalty kill in the league with a 73.4 percent kill rate, so there's plenty of blame to go around.

In the big picture, Ward deserves more credit than he's getting for his on-ice play with Corey Crawford out and off-ice role by serving as a great mentor for Collin Delia. Quite frankly, the Blackhawks likely wouldn't be in the playoff race at this point in the season if it wasn't for him because he's bridged the gap perfectly between a two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie and 24-year-old who had only two NHL starts going into this season.

Remember how last season turned out when they didn't have a veteran like Ward?