Blackhawks

Blackhawks' special teams clicking at the right time

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Blackhawks' special teams clicking at the right time

The horn sounded a second time within two-and-a-half minutes, Andrew Ladd scoring his second power-play goal of the night in that time span.

It was another power-play goal, which are coming in bunches for the Blackhawks again. But it’s not just the production part of special teams that is working for the Blackhawks right now. The penalty kill, which sputtered for a while, is returning to its familiar shutdown mode.

With the postseason just around the corner, the Blackhawks’ special teams are trending in the right direction.

[RELATED - Five Things from Blackhawks-Coyotes: Special teams surge]

The Blackhawks have gone 6-for-12 on their power play in their last three games, including 3-for-6 in their 6-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night. Their penalty kill, meanwhile, has gone 17-of-17 in the past six games.

Let’s look at the power play first. The advantage went 0-for-26 over a nine-game span before breaking out of its slump against Winnipeg on Friday. The Blackhawks have missed several players from that power play – a suspended Duncan Keith and injured Andrew Shaw and Marian Hossa among them. They also lost Artem Anisimov on Tuesday when he was boarded; Anisimov is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

Despite the missing pieces, the Blackhawks’ power play is surging. So what’s been different in recent games?

“Just movement. Movement's huge,” Patrick Kane said. “You knew it was a little bit different with Anisimov going out. But you know you've got Ladd, [Jonathan] Toews and myself and Bread Man [Artemi Panarin] out there. I think we just try to kind of play kind of more of a 5-on-5 style, just keep moving the puck, moving our bodies. Get them confused out there. It’s the right time to get hot here.”

On the flip side, the penalty kill has been keeping opponents from threatening more. In the last six games, the Blackhawks have faced various types of kills, from nixing five-minute majors (Keith’s penalty vs. Minnesota) to 5-on-3s (the Coyotes had two on Tuesday, albeit one was only 12 seconds). The Blackhawks have scored two short-handed goals in the last six games – Marian Hossa vs. Minnesota and Toews on Tuesday – but it’s more about stifling their opponents.

Toews said the Blackhawks recognized they had to fix the penalty kill fast.

“I think when things get bad enough, you focus on it enough and you make it your goal to improve upon whatever’s going wrong,” Jonathan Toews said. “Obviously our penalty kill was a glaring issue for a little while there and not only our ranking in the league, but just the fact that it was hurting us in games. It could have made a difference and we know that this time of year and the playoffs it is a huge deal for us defensively. We need to have that confidence that we can kill off penalties and be tough on teams and not give them any energy.”

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It certainly helps that Marcus Kruger is back. While Kruger was in the penalty box twice on Tuesday – Toews scored his short-handed goal on Kruger’s first infraction – Kruger nevertheless gives coach Joel Quenneville another great killing option.

“I think he takes pride in, not the statistics, but doing the right things and being aware of what we’re trying to do, be it checking in the middle and in the zone and [being] very diligent on the little details that are a part of being successful on that unit,” Quenneville said. “He took a couple of penalties [Tuesday]; now we’re missing a guy we want out there, so has to stay away from that. But other than that, a real appreciation on how he can help and improve our PK.”

The Blackhawks wanted to get their game together before the postseason. Special teams are a vital part of that good overall game, and they’re clicking at the right time, too.

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!