Blackhawks confident in one-two punch of Crawford, Darling


Blackhawks confident in one-two punch of Crawford, Darling

There were plenty of changes for the Blackhawks this offseason, mainly among the forward and defenseman groups. Uncertainty usually accompanies change, and the Blackhawks will work through that as they have in the past.

But when it comes to the Blackhawks’ goaltending, coach Joel Quenneville is pretty sure of what he’s got.

“There was some uncertainty there in the past,” he said. “And now we’re probably as comfortable as we’ve been with our goaltenders, one-two, starting the season.”

Corey Crawford and Scott Darling made a great tandem down the stretch and both are looking to start the 2015-16 season strong. For Crawford, it’s building off a second Stanley Cup and second William Jennings Trophy — he shared last season’s honor with Carey Price and shared the 2012-13 award with former teammate Ray Emery. For Darling, it’s prepping for a sophomore season after an impressive 2014-15.

“Well, I think both guys proved they can play, and both played meaningful games for us down the stretch,” Quenneville said. “Darls came a long way over the course of a season; it looks like he’s taking off from that note and wants to get better. I think there’s healthy competition and good support through each other as well.”

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Crawford and Darling have formed a good bond on and off the ice. The competition, however, remains.

“We push each other, we work together to make each other better,” Crawford said. “We talk about other teams’ players, our technique, pretty much anything. It’s good to have that communication between us and with Jimmy (Waite, Blackhawks goaltending coach), too. We have to be a team back there and work on ways to — not necessarily make it easier, but find ways where it’s more efficient to stop the puck. We’re both excited, and we both feel pushing each other makes us that much better, too.”

Darling said Crawford is another “coach” for him.

“He’s a little easier on me than Jimmy,” Darling said. “But just learning from him and watching how he prepares and plays game in and game out has been helpful for my career. There’s no better mentor to have.”

It was a short summer for all of the returning Blackhawks, including the goaltenders. For Crawford, this is his second quick offseason turnaround. But he said he budgeted his off time the right way.

“The training was there, no question; I didn’t miss any of that. I took just enough time (off), mentally and physically, and then it was back to work. You don’t want to miss too much time because it gets harder and harder to start back up as the years go on,” Crawford said with a smile. “Hockey-wise in the summer, it’s the same thing. That nice mental break helps when you’re coming into camp fresh. Your mind’s fresh and you’re hungry to be on the ice and start playing again.”

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Darling had enough trial-by-fire moments last season that nothing should surprise him entering this one. If there was any question of Darling’s ability to handle the pressure, it was answered in that first-round series against the Nashville Predators.

“I had a lot of growing experiences last season, whether it was getting multiple starts in a row or not playing for a long time and then having to go in. And the playoffs were obviously huge for me,” Darling said. “That gives me confidence going forward, to know I can do it. I’ve done it before, so I just have to build off that.”

Speaking of confidence, considering how much Quenneville has in Crawford and Darling, don’t be surprised if the starts are more divided between the two.

“It’s not etched in stone how much or who’s going to play, but I think we expect them both to be regularly playing and keep them both fresh as possible as well,” Quenneville said. “We like our goaltending situation.”

The Blackhawks had their share of summer changes. Goaltending wasn’t one of them, and the Blackhawks are assured in that familiarity.

“I just think whoever’s playing gives us the confidence we need in our defensive game. If something goes wrong, they’ll do everything they can to stop the puck,” Marcus Kruger said. “They just give us that confidence, and we know they’ll give us a good chance to win every night. That’s huge to have two goalies like that.”

Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch


Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch

Brandon Saad played a majority of last season on the first line, started this season on the second to change things up, got demoted to the fourth by the fifth game, and could find himself out of the lineup in the sixth.

Before the Blackhawks hit the ice for practice on Monday, the 25-year-old winger found a white jersey hanging in his stall. That's usually reserved for players who are injured — Andreas Martinsen (back) was the only other player wearing one — or players who are on the outside looking in, which appears to be Saad right now considering he was not part of the four-line rotation.

"I don't think anyone wants to be wearing white around here," he said. "But it is what it is and there's nothing you can do but keep trying to improve. It's their job to make the call to put the best team out there to win hockey games."

Known for being even-keeled through the ups and downs, Saad expressed disappointment about the possibility of being a healthy scratch on Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes. He didn't exactly show that emotion following his demotion to the fourth line, perhaps out of respect to the players he was playing with by noting how it brings balance.

But he did on Monday, and it was the first time we've really seen some sort of emotion out of him.

"Everyone makes mistakes and things aren't always going to go your way but to be out of the lineup, a little surprised today," Saad said. "But it is what it is. ... No one wants to be out of the lineup. That's never fun regardless of who you are."

When asked to pinpoint what's gone wrong, Saad said he wasn't the right person to ask.

"I think you got to ask him that," he said, referring to Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff. "It's his calls. For me, you can talk pros and cons as much as you want but just trying to go out there and compete and win hockey games. We've won a few here, I know every game has gone to overtime so they've been close. Nothing was said to me about lineup change or anything like that. You just come in and you see your jersey and you go out there and you play."

So Quenneville was asked.

"Just expect more," he said. "That's the situation."

Is his mindset in the right place?

"I think he's fine," Quenneville said. "His mindset is what it is. Whether it's urgency or passion, coming up with loose pucks in those areas is going to be the difference."

The Blackhawks sending a message shouldn't only be directed at Saad. It also serves as a reminder to his teammates and is important to note for the younger guys about earning your ice time.

"I don't really know where the coaches are coming from so I'm not going to comment on that," Jonathan Toews said respectfully. "But [Saad] has been doing some good things and I think it's good for all of us to know what's going on there because if [Saad] can get his ice time taken away, then so can a lot of guys, myself included. So we all want to play well and have team success."

The Blackhawks need Saad to return to form quickly because he's crucial to their overall success. There's no debate about that. It's why the thought of Saad, who played in all 82 games last season, serving as the 13th forward is frustrating for everyone involved.

It hasn't been a problem in the past, but now it's becoming one because of the Blackhawks' aspirations of getting back to the playoffs and their dependence on their top players.

"I don’t think it’s an issue," Quenneville said. "We just expect more out of him."

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

The Blackhawks made sports history on Saturday after they appeared in their fifth straight overtime game to start the season.

No NHL team has done that since the league introduced a regular-season overtime period in 1983-84, per the Elias Sports Bureau. It also has never happened in the history of MLB, NBA or NFL, showing just how crazy this early season run has been for the Blackhawks, who have rallied from all five games and have come away with wins in three of them.

"We’ve had five games, every one of them have been extremely intense and the game’s been on the line from start to finish," coach Joel Quenneville said following a 4-3 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues. "Our group’s been competitive this year, the guys have been working hard for one another. I don’t know how many games we’ve been down in the third period, and coming back to win is special."

The Blackhawks appeared in 17 overtime/shootout games last season and won seven of them. They are one of six teams this season that have yet to pick up a regulation win.

On a separate note, Saturday marked the eighth time in Blackhawks history that one player scored a tying goal in the third period and scored in overtime (Alex DeBrincat), according to the NHL's PR department. It's the second time it's happened this year for the Blackhawks, with Jonathan Toews the other on Oct. 6 against St. Louis.