Blackhawks

Blackhawks: Patrick Kane returns to Buffalo for first time since investigation

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Blackhawks: Patrick Kane returns to Buffalo for first time since investigation

BUFFALO, N.Y. – When Patrick Kane departed Buffalo in mid-September, he did so facing a myriad of questions.

At that time Kane was the subject of a rape investigation. How that would unfold was unknown. What the Blackhawks were going to do with their right wing, outside of starting the season with him, was unknown.

Since then, some questions have been answered. The investigation against him was dropped in early November. The Blackhawks have stated that Kane is part of their long-term future. Now we’ll see Buffalo’s reaction to Kane’s return when the Blackhawks face the Sabres on Saturday afternoon.

[MORE: Marcus Kruger sidelined four months with dislocated wrist]

On the ice, Kane has been great. Entering Friday’s games, he led the NHL in points (47), was tied for the league lead in assists (28, with Erik Karlsson) and was one shy of the league lead in goals (19), shared by Jamie Benn and Vladimir Tarasenko (20). His 26-game point streak, a new franchise record, ended against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday.

Kane was in the midst of his streak when general manager Stan Bowman was asked if Kane was part of the Blackhawks’ long-term future.

“Absolutely,” Bowman said in late November. “You can’t find talent like that. You look at what he’s done over the course of his career, whether it’s this season, last season or since he was a rookie. He won rookie of the year. He’s been a game changer. He’s one of those guys that, I’ve said it a lot over the years, he’s able to elevate his game in pressure moments. Not too many guys are able to do that.

"Sometimes when the pressure gets on, they have a hard time performing, but he’s sort of the opposite. He seems to raise his game.”

Fan reaction to Kane on previous road visits varied. Some audiences did nothing audibly noticeable. Some booed. Some took part in unsettling chants. But Saturday’s game won’t be in the buildings in which Kane was disliked well before last summer. It’ll be in his hometown, and one would think the crowd will have a positive reaction to Kane.

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Asked if Kane’s return to Buffalo now would be any different considering this past summer, coach Joel Quenneville didn’t foresee it.

“He’s gone through, I’d say, five months of a lot of attention. He’s gone through a busy stretch here,” Quenneville said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be much different.”

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

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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!