Blackhawks: Can Versteeg-Kane-Richards line work again?


Blackhawks: Can Versteeg-Kane-Richards line work again?

The first sight was somewhat of a surprise. We all figured Patrick Kane would be back sooner rather than later, given the constant updates of his steady progress.

The second sight, considering the first one, wasn’t all that shocking either: with a healthy Kane ready to go, it was time to put him back with Kris Versteeg and Brad Richards. It worked once. Now they’ll see if it works again.

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Versteeg, Kane and Richards made a great combination in mid-November/early December, when the Blackhawks went on an eight-game winning streak. They’ll be together again on Wednesday when the Blackhawks face the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.

The three were put together just as the Blackhawks embarked on their Circus Trip. That line was a catalyst for the team’s success at that point. When Kane was injured on Feb. 24, the Blackhawks lost their leading scorer and coach Joel Quenneville lost the chance to put that group together again as the season ended. So they’ll try it again now.

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“I obviously really enjoyed playing with him and it’s too bad the year he was having to see that happen to him. I wish we could’ve kept that going and learned more about each other. But that’s hockey, that’s our job,” Richards said. “Hopefully we can get to a better level [this time].”

But why did it work so well the first time?

“Obviously Kaner is on a different level, but we all think the game similar and play the game the same way,” Versteeg said. “That’s how we can all kind of complement each other.”

Relationships don’t hurt, either. Kane and Versteeg have been friends dating back to Versteeg’s first go-around with the Blackhawks. Richards and Kane formed a rapport early on this season, partially thanks to living in the same building.

But there’s something else: when these three were clicking, they were holding onto the puck plenty. Credit Kane for a lot of that; his talent for that was evident during his injury, when the Blackhawks’ puck-possession game diminished.

“I think we were smart with it and knew the times to do it; we had the puck a lot,” Richards said. “We’re not three big monsters where we’re going to come in and put you through the end boards, so you want to have the puck and made it hard on the other team that way. But playoffs is a different game, where you’ve got to be a lot smarter sometimes, and sometimes you do have to give up the puck and live to fight another day. But all three of us have been through playoffs enough to know that.”

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A trio that got the Blackhawks going earlier this season is together again, potentially getting them going early in the playoffs. It worked once. The Blackhawks hope it can work again.

“Yeah, we had some good success,” Kane said. “It seems like both of them are skating really well and it seems like they have a newfound energy come with this new postseason coming around. Wherever they put me in the lineup,I’ll be happy. But knowing we had some success earlier in the season, hopefully we can recapture that.” 

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

Corey Crawford is back and it didn't look like he skipped much of a beat. The Blackhawks were handed their first regulation loss of the season to the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, but the 33-year-old netminder stopped 27 of 30 shots (.900 save percentage) in his season debut and made several timely saves to keep his team in it.

In the larger picture, it was a win based on how well Crawford looked between the pipes.

"Yeah, I think it is," coach Joel Quenneville said after practice on Friday. "It's one of things we were wondering, how he would handle post-game and how he came in today. Very encouraging signs. He felt good in all aspects of what he went through and dealt with, and practiced well today too, so that was good."

The first one is in the books.

But what's the plan going forward? Will Crawford be on a "pitch count" or will they treat him like they have in past seasons when he was healthy?

In the past, Crawford has generally started somewhere in between 55-58 games per season. Part of that has been because of injuries. Another part is the Blackhawks have had reliable backups, which allowed them to give Crawford an extra night off here and there to keep him fresh.

It's not unreasonable, though, to think Crawford could flirt with 50 starts, considering he missed only five games to start the season. And they can still accomplish that by playing it safe.

The Blackhawks have 13 more back-to-backs this season, which gives them the opportunity to start Cam Ward at some point in each of them. That leaves room for another 15 or so starts to sprinkle in for Ward that could serve as rest days for Crawford and still being on track to start around 50.

Obviously, the Blackhawks want to be careful with how much they ask of Crawford because concussions are tricky to deal with and every player responds differently to it.

His return comes at a time where the Blackhawks are slated to play seven games in 11 days after playing just two in the previous 10. Thursday marked the start of that stretch.

"He’ll tell us how he feels and we’ll go from there and make those decisions," Quenneville said.

The Blackhawks have been on record saying they prefer not to carry three goaltenders. But in this case it makes sense. At least in the short term.

Quenneville said Friday that the Blackhawks will reevaluate the situation at the end of the weekend following the beginning of a busy stretch where they'll play three games in four days.

"Yeah, that’s the mindset," he said. "Let’s see how we handle these three in four and then we’ll address it."

Crawford is expected to start on Saturday in Columbus, making it his second start in three days. That's when they'll get a better sense of how he's handling things.

If it were up to him, Crawford said he feels he's prepared for it.

"Yeah, sure," Crawford said. "Why not? I've been working hard with [strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman]. He's got me where I need to be, so I'm in shape right now. Why not?"

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


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!