Blackhawks

Blackhawks defense needs to be strong vs. Wild

duncan-keith-0428.png

Blackhawks defense needs to be strong vs. Wild

The Blackhawks’ goaltending switcheroo was a big story through the first round. First it was Corey Crawford, then Scott Darling, then Crawford again.

Some of the switching was done because of the goaltender’s performance, but mostly, those changes occurred more because of the guys in front of the goalies.

“We have to do a better job defensively,” Marian Hossa said. “Because we don’t help our goalies much.”

And there it was, in all its honesty, following the Blackhawks’ series-clinching victory over the Nashville Predators on Saturday night. Because outside of a few periods in that series against the Predators, the Blackhawks’ team defense struggled. And it has to be better heading into the second-round series against the Minnesota Wild.

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Stanley Cup Playoffs: Schedule set for Blackhawks-Wild]

The Predators fired 232 shots over six games, an average of 38.7 shots per game. Keep in mind two of those games went multiple overtimes, so that makes a difference. Still, it wasn’t as much the number of shots as the quality of shots the Blackhawks allowed. The first few minutes of that final game were a good example: Over those opening Game 6 minutes, James Neal and Matt Cullen faced little resistance en route to the Blackhawks net.

The Blackhawks’ team defense was at its best at the end, seemingly prompted by Crawford replacing Darling midway through the first period of Game 6 on Saturday night. After allowing 12 shots during Darling’s time — the first 11 minutes, 16 seconds of the game — the Blackhawks allowed just 13 shots the rest of the way.

“Better on all aspects of our game, be it 5-on-5, defensive zone, neutral zone, offensive zone,” coach Joel Quenneville said on what has to improve. “We had a couple of bad starts. We can’t give up 3-1, 3-0 leads and (hope to) come back and win two games in a series. Hopefully that’s the lesson.”

[SHOP BLACKHAWKS: Get a Duncan Keith jersey right here]

Duncan Keith agreed.

“It isn’t fair to the goalie how we played, Corey the first few times, Darls (on Saturday night),” Keith said. “We know we have great goaltending. It’s not that; it’s how we play in front of him. We pulled it together because that’s not acceptable.”

The Blackhawks pulled it together in the closing periods against the Predators. They played the type of team defense that’s become synonymous with them. That’s the type of defense they’ll need if they want to keep going further, too.

“There are certain periods of time when, I wouldn’t call it soppy, but we’re not responsible in our zone,” Hossa said. “It doesn’t matter who’s in the net; it’s tough for them to stop everything. When we play tighter defensively we play a better team game.”

Corey Crawford expects to make season debut for Blackhawks on Thursday vs. Arizona

corey_crawford_usa_today.jpg
USA TODAY

Corey Crawford expects to make season debut for Blackhawks on Thursday vs. Arizona

The wait is almost over.

After missing nearly 10 months with a concussion, Corey Crawford said he expects to start on Thursday when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center. An official decision will come following the team's morning skate.

"It feels good to be back to myself," Crawford said. "I'm feeling good, I'm feeling clear. ... It was a pretty long process. But I think the most important thing was not to rush anything. When I finally was out, it got to a point where I wasn’t in shape to play and it was time to rest and it’s unfortunate it took a lot longer than I would’ve liked. 

"It’s been long, but finally, just to get back and be practicing with the team has meant a lot. It’s good to get to this point now when you’re really close to playing. Practices have been great, been getting timing a little bit more and getting up to speed and reading shots and all that, so it'll be nice to finally get in one."

Crawford's last appearance in an NHL game was Dec. 23, 2017 against the New Jersey Devils when he allowed three goals on seven shots in 13:22 of action before getting pulled. So of course, emotions will naturally be running high, especially in front of the hometown crowd.

"I'm sure I'll be a little anxious getting into it," Crawford said. "Some nerves. But we'll see. We'll wait until the morning, but I'm definitely excited I can tell you that."

It's obviously terrific news for the Blackhawks, who have picked up eight out of a possible 10 points to start the season and are getting their two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie back between the pipes. It's been a long time coming, and Crawford is coming back into a healthy situation where the Blackhawks are in a good spot in the standings.

"It's great news, I'm sure it'll be exciting for him exciting for our team, exciting for our fans and the organization as well," Patrick Kane said. "It’s probably a good situation all around. Cam [Ward] has done a great job of playing in the net so far. Crow is really good in practice right now, so I’m sure he’s itching to get back, too. We’ve had a good start here. It’s something we want to keep going, and I’m sure him coming back on home ice, in front of our crowd, will be a fun one for him and for our team."

There's no doubting how important Crawford is the team and organization. While there may be a little bit of rust early on, the Blackhawks are expecting him to look like his old self.

"He means a lot to the team," Quenneville said. "We felt last year was a good example of how important he was and how well he was playing for us, as well. We’ve gotten off to a decent start and he was a big factor in it. We know that goaltending is such a big part of the team and your success a lot of nights depends on him and his consistency’s always been in place.

"But he looks good in the net. He’s been off for a long, long time. Is there rust? Do we expect rust? I think the way he’s competing and practicing and finding pucks, he looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. So we’re looking forward to him getting in there and getting comfortable and how he’s feeling going forward will dictate a lot of the decisions about him going back in."

Hawks Talk Podcast: Crawford's return, Saad's demotion and power play concerns

saad_crawford_usa_today.jpg
USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Crawford's return, Saad's demotion and power play concerns

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Charlie Roumeliotis and Slavko Bekovic provide their thoughts on the Blackhawks’ 3-0-2 start.

They also discuss Brandon Saad’s demotion and whether it could serve as a wake-up call, Corey Crawford’s potential return on Thursday vs. Arizona and what could happen with Anton Forsberg because of it, and address the power play concerns.

The guys wrap up the podcast by making a few bold predictions going forward.

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