Crawford earns seventh shutout of season as Blackhawks top Blues


Crawford earns seventh shutout of season as Blackhawks top Blues

The Blackhawks came out of Florida looking like their energy was depleted.

They’ve had a busy schedule, during which they went on a 12-game winning streak. But after two losses Blackhawks needed to find enough to get through these final two games before the All-Star break. Thanks in part to their goaltender again, the found enough on Sunday.

Artemi Panarin scored his 17th goal of the season and Crawford stopped all 25 shots he saw for his league-leading seventh shutout of the season as the Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues 2-0. The Blackhawks remain atop the Central Division with 70 points, giving them a five-point lead over idle Dallas and a six-point edge over the Blues.

Andrew Shaw scored his ninth of the season.

The Blackhawks looked listless and drained when they faced the Florida Panthers on Friday, and they didn’t look too sharp through the first 20 minutes of this one, either. But they got enough through the final two periods to snap their two-game losing streak.

“Yeah, it was much better as the game progressed,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We didn’t have much going for us, we were chasing the puck around in the first period. They’re positionally, a strong team. They had a lot of possession, zone time and Crow had to make some saves as well. We settled down nicely in the second period. Not a high-chance game tonight but we did a good job of playing the right way, particularly the last 40 minutes.”

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Crawford was once again ready from the start. While the Blackhawks limited the Blues’ chances through the final two periods the opposition had 12 first-period shots, and Crawford got all of them. Still, he downplayed his latest shutout.

“I don’t know. It’s pretty good I think so far but I think this team is never satisfied,” Crawford said. “The D men are working so hard in front of me and limiting second chances and keeping a lot of stuff to the outside. I’m able to see pucks. It’s just a solid effort by our unit, I think, in our zone.”

The Blackhawks, shut out against Florida on Friday, found just enough offense on Sunday. Panarin was first, taking a pretty pass from Patrick Kane and scorching one from the left circle for the 1-0 lead the Blackhawks wouldn’t relinquish.

“Special play. The anticipation between the two is Sedin-like,” Quenneville said of Panarin and Kane. “And one timer, great shot; it may have gone off a stick. But the thought process of getting into that position, he anticipated that play.”

Shaw added to the lead about five minutes into the third period when he tipped Marian Hossa’s shot for a power-play goal. That was enough for the Blackhawks, who like the Blues played in their 52nd game tonight but had more energy late.

“You look at the schedule and how hectic it’s been but St. Louis has played the same amount of games. Tonight was a good test for us,” Shaw said. “They came out flying in the first there and we countered with a good second. We scored on some opportunities tonight.”

The Blackhawks still would’ve been in decent shape had they lost tonight. They would’ve remained in first place in the division, although their lead obviously would’ve been more tenuous. But they wanted a rebound effort. It didn’t look like they would get it after that first period but they summoned enough energy to get through that final 40 minutes.

“We’ve been playing a lot of hockey and not every game is going to be perfect. But still, that was a hard team,” Crawford said. “We stuck with it. We didn’t panic at all, showed good poise and just kept playing our game and started to make plays. It was a tight game so I think the most important thing was no panic out there.”

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers


Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the East Coast Hockey League to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen


Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

The Blackhawks were able to get away with their defensive lapses in the past solely because of Corey Crawford. When he went down with a concussion last December, those issues were magnified because he wasn't there to mask the flaws.

But it's reached the point where they can't rely on their goaltender to bail them out on a nightly basis, which is becoming another trend. Cam Ward allowed six goals to Tampa Bay on Sunday night, but made 49 saves — including 30 in the second period alone. He did everything he could to keep his team withing some sort of reaching distance and without his timely stops, the scoreboard could've looked much worse for the Blackhawks.

Something's got to change. 

When the Blackhawks talk about tightening things up defensively, they're not just putting it all on the defensemen. All five guys on the ice need to do their part and they're not doing it right now.

"I think we're trying to do too much and running around trying to do each other's job," Jonathan Toews said. "Sometimes we just need to simply and finish our checks and support each other."

No team has given up more even-strength high-danger chances through eight games than the Blackhawks at 110. That's 15.77 per 60 minutes. For reference, the New York Islanders finished worst in the league in that category last season and their number was at 12.96.

It didn't help that the Blackhawks spent nearly the entire second period in their own end on Sunday.

"We just couldn’t get it out of our zone, couldn’t get our stick on it, didn’t see pressure, didn’t feel pressure when we had it, were stripped," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Hence, we didn’t advance it. Kept looking like we were going up the ice and there were going to be some odd-man situations and then we’re the ones who were facing it."

That's one way to eliminate those high quality scoring chances, is getting the puck out of their own zone effectively or else it opens the door for Grade-A opportunities because of self-inflicted wounds. And it usually happens at the end of shifts when guys are tired, which often leads to goals.

"We have to learn how to play without the puck better and learn how to keep it," Quenneville said. "Whether it was our execution going up the ice, first pass poor and then we couldn’t change. A lot of things that happened yesterday were there tonight."

The Blackhawks weren't using three games in four nights as an excuse because Tampa Bay was in the same situation. It was an even playing field in that respect.

It's all about execution from everyone involved, forwards and defensemen. And the Blackhawks feel they're correctable issues.

"Of course," Toews said. "We've had some good periods this season so far. The first three, four, five games, everyone was excited and you guys are all talking to us much differently than you are right now. It's just getting back to playing that smart defensive game and playing with effort and letting our offense do the work. We know what's got to improve. It's right there in front of us."