Corey Crawford shines but Blackhawks lose to Avalanche in OT

Corey Crawford shines but Blackhawks lose to Avalanche in OT

Coach Joel Quenneville wondered how Corey Crawford would look coming off a three-week injury hiatus.

Sure, Crawford’s had several practices over the past week, and faced shots from teammates the last few days. But game timing and situations are always different than practice, so the curiosity was there.

Crawford answered any doubt. Unfortunately, he didn’t get enough help from his teammates.

Crawford stopped 32 of 34 shots but took the loss when the Colorado Avalanche came back to beat the Blackhawks in overtime, 2-1, on Friday night. The Blackhawks head into the Christmas break atop the Western Conference with 50 points. Their lead, however, will be a tight one when they return to post-Christmas play. The Minnesota Wild, which have won 10 in a row, are just four points behind them.

Jonathan Toews scored his first goal since Nov. 6, a power-play goal that gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead at the time. Artemi Panarin had the primary assist on that goal, running his point streak to seven consecutive games.

Crawford, who’s been sidelined since Dec. 3, when he had an appendectomy, looked strong and agile in his return. As the Blackhawks got off to another slow start, he didn’t, stopping eight shots before the Blackhawks recorded their second shot at the other end. Crawford made several big stops, including a lunging stick save on Nikita Zadorov in the second period. But an Avalanche 2-on-1, led and finished by Nathan MacKinnon, cost him the potential victory in overtime.

“Yeah, I was just trying to feel good right from the start. I was reading plays pretty good. That’s the most important thing is seeing the puck well, obviously is the first thing, but reading plays and reacting after that,” Crawford said. “I felt pretty good.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Brian Campbell figured Crawford, who heard the “Corey, Corey” chant a few times on Friday, would snap back quickly.

“I think Corey knows how to get himself ready and he had time to practice this week. Yeah, I don’t think there’s any question with us,” Campbell said. “He made the crowd roar a little bit tonight so it was pretty cool to see that display.”

The rest of the Blackhawks, though, were a bit lackluster. They didn’t get enough sustained traffic around Calvin Pickard, who had a strong night, too, in stopping 38 of 39 shots. The lack of traffic was frustrating for Quenneville.

“Not enough, not enough,” Quenneville said. “We had the puck a lot in the offensive zone but not too much inside.”

As Quenneville said, some Blackhawks played well, some didn’t. One who definitely played well was Toews, who finished with a game-high seven shots on goal and also won 20 of 28 faceoffs. He broke his lengthy goal-less streak in the second period, swatting home Panarin’s shot for a power-play goal.

The Blackhawks wrap up a very busy portion of their schedule. They’ve done pretty well up to this point, despite injuries and slow starts. A big part of their success has been goaltending. Crawford, even after a lengthy injury break, was once again giving the Blackhawks a chance on Friday.

How Blackhawks are staying positive and adapting to Jeremy Colliton’s system


How Blackhawks are staying positive and adapting to Jeremy Colliton’s system

It's been a challenging week for Jeremy Colliton. He's winless in his first three games (0-2-1) as an NHL head coach, but has taken over behind the bench for a Blackhawks team that hasn't won since Oct. 25.

There hasn't been a winning feeling in the locker room in almost three weeks, which has certainly been difficult for a rookie coach as he tries to reestablish a winning culture while implementing details of his system on the fly. But they're seeing some progress.

"I had a really good feeling after the game," Colliton said on Tuesday regarding the 3-2 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. "I thought we played pretty well. Of course, disappointed we didn't get rewarded. This team needs some positive reinforcement with points. We can tell them, 'Hey, we're getting better guys,' and showing them the positive progression, but in the end, it's about results and we want to get them. That's going to be the final reminder that we're on the right track.

"When you're in a losing streak, it's hard to get out of it. You need to play really, really well. You need a couple breaks, but you often don't get them. You've got to make your own breaks. And we're close. Once we break through, that tide will turn and we can go on a run."

It's easy to squeeze the sticks a little harder when a losing streak is nearing the double digits, but the Blackhawks haven't shown any signs of that. There isn't any boiling frustration because they know they're close and can give more.

"I know we've got a couple losses, but just trying to get better every day," Brandon Saad said. "He's our new coach. We want to commit to his system and buy into his play. Once we get that going, we're going to have some success. Early on we had a few losses, but it's about keeping that confidence and staying positive. We've got good things going forward.

"It's fun coming to the rink learning every day, talking with him. He's got his knacks and every coach wants you to play a certain way and play within a certain system. For us it's just getting familiarized with that and buying into the system. It's always more fun winning. I think everyone has that hunger and compete level every day, trying to get back on the winning side of things."

A week into Colliton's tenure in Chicago, the Blackhawks are getting more and more comfortable with how he wants them to play the more reps they get. But it's still an adjustment.

"There's definitely some differences and some things we're trying to change and you're trying to do it on the fly," Patrick Kane said. "It's not the easiest thing when you're doing it in the NHL, but we played pretty well [on Monday] and probably could've had a better result, could've had some more goals, had some chances that we didn't really capitalize on. Hopefully it's all coming together here.

"I know we're in a little bit of a skid, but it's one of those things where we want to end it, we want to get some momentum on our side and then I think everyone will start feeling comfortable with where we're at. But he's implemented some things that I think are really going to help us."

It's difficult to make up ground in the Central Division and Western Conference as a whole, but there's still more than 75 percent of the season to go. That doesn't mean they can afford to take their time in snapping out of this eight-game losing streak (0-6-2), but there is time to get it right and go on a run to climb back into the playoff race.

They're not focused on the bigger picture right now though. It starts with winning one game, and as long as the Blackhawks continue to have the right mindset, it will get turned around sooner than later.

"We've got to keep the belief," Colliton said. "In my view, the only thing that gets in the way from us turning the ship around and having a lot of success is if there's doubt in what we're doing, if guys stop believing we're on the right track. So that's our job of the staff and leadership group to make sure we continue to believe we're on the right path. All we've got to do is show them the clips, show them the video. It's pretty clear. We will get it going here."

What Jeremy Colliton has learned about the Blackhawks after one week


What Jeremy Colliton has learned about the Blackhawks after one week

It’s been a week since Jeremy Colliton took over as head coach of the Blackhawks. In some ways, it feels longer than that. In reality, he's just getting started.

Coming into a situation where the team had lost five straight games didn't help make the transition easy for Colliton, and dropping his first three contests as an NHL coach hasn't been ideal, either.

But he's been around long enough to get a feel for what he has in the locker room and how his players are responding to the adversity. 

Asked what he's learned from this group so far, Colliton didn't hesitate.

"I've learned that they want to win," he said. "They're extremely open to feedback. They want to get better. They want the video. They want the meetings. They want to talk. They want these ideas. They want to know how we can win. What's the plan? And it's right on down the line. The youngest guys I knew that because I had them in Rockford. But the oldest guys, they're almost the most excited about talking hockey and how we're going to turn this around. So that's been a pleasant surprise and makes me very excited about the future."

There are nine players on this Blackhawks roster with at least two Stanley Cups on their resume. Yet, none of them are satisfied with where they're at right now, which isn't surprising to anybody in Chicago. That’s why they’re winners.

The Blackhawks want to turn this losing skid around as quickly as possible and it's the veterans who are leading the charge in that respect, both on the ice and in the film room. That's the kind of leadership they have and need to have in the locker room, especially as a 33-year-old rookie NHL coach looks to gain respect of the group on the fly.