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.

NHL Draft Profile: F Brady Tkachuk

NHL Draft Profile: F Brady Tkachuk

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Brady Tkachuk

Position: Forward
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 196 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"I know Tkachuk isn't a center, but Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks) is another player who comes to mind with his combination of size, strength, skill and nastiness. Tkachuk has impressive hand skills and his upside has only begun because I think there's lots of maturity and growth to come. I've seen his speed and skating improve each of the past three years and I think he'll still get stronger and his balance will get better. His man strength will come and it'll be like, 'Oh boy, look out.'"

NHL player comparable: Matthew Tkachuk/Wayne Simmonds

Fit for Blackhawks:

If you're looking for a player that checks all the boxes in this year's draft, it's Tkachuk. And man could the Blackhawks use a player like him.

He's got offensive skill, willingly goes to the greasy areas, can provide net-front presence while playing a top-six role, and perhaps the most important part for the Blackhawks: he's very close to NHL ready. The Blackhawks will be patient with whoever they draft, but there's also some urgency to turn things around in 2018-19.

If they can draft a player like Tkachuk who can potentially jump into the lineup as early as this upcoming season, that would be ideal. Because he's the type of player that can make an impact, not just get by.

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Quinn Hughes

Position: Defenseman
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 170 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"He's got the puck skills, is a good skater, and is a guy with some high-end offensive talent. He wants to get right in there and play where it's hard and where you get rewarded. When he gets that puck on his stick, he wants to bury it."

NHL player comparable: Torey Krug/Kris Letang

Fit for Blackhawks:

It's no secret the Blackhawks are looking to restock their pipeline with some high-end defensemen. Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell are on the way. But the former isn't a lock to be a full-time NHLer this season and the latter will continue playing in college for the 2018-19 season.

Hughes, who shined at Michigan and the IIHF World Championship with Team USA, would have the best chance of the three to crack the Blackhawks lineup first. The problem is, he likely won't be available at No. 8, so if Hughes is the guy they're locked in on, they'd need to trade up to grab him. 

If they did that, Hughes would give the Blackhawks a third blue line prospect they can get excited about. He's a left-handed shot, which evens out the balance in the system, and he would become a prime candidate to eventually replace Duncan Keith as the team's No. 1 defenseman.