Blackhawks

From December to remember to....

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From December to remember to....

At the risk of being a grinch, this next month will tell us a whole lot more about the Blackhawks than this last one since they returned from the Circus Trip. Give them a well-deserved pat on the back for their impressive 8-1-1 record so far in December. But while we got two doses of the Islanders, and single servings of the Ducks, Flames and Canadiens, if you haven't noticed what lies ahead, you'll see what I mean. You, me Joel Quenneville, Stan Bowman and probably every player in that locker room will have a better grasp of exactly who they are when the calendar flips to February. That happens right after the opener of nine straight road games against their old buddies from Vancouver, which has gone 7-2-1 in its last 10. It might not be a bad idea to punch the clock again Monday by regaining momentum against worst-in-the-NHL Columbus, not looking ahead like we'll do right now:
> Wednesday: LOS ANGELES
1-0-1 under Darryl Sutter and facing desperation to get back in the playoff hunt or prepare for an unexpected, embarrassing miss.

> Friday: DETROIT
The Wings lurk just five points back, and get back to work with back-to-backs against Nashville & St. Louis

> Sunday: EDMONTON
Remember 9-2? A huge chance for revenge here with these Young Guns tasting some serious Humble Pie of late (3-8-1 in their last 12)

> Jan. 5th: @ Philadelphia
It's the FlyGuys first game since the Winter Classic HBO's cameras go away

> Jan. 6th: COLORADO
Like the Oilers, they're back down to earth after beating the Hawks in a shootout at the UC that improved their record to 6-2. But make sure those legs are ready. Their speed is dangerous.
> Jan. 8th: DETROIT
After not seeing them the first 37 games, I can hearf the chants now for a second time in 10 days? Will the Hawks still be 5 ahead? More? Less?

> Jan. 10th: @ Columbus
A "break"? A "breather"? As long as they don't think that way....
> Jan. 12th: MINNESOTA
Where will the Wild Things be at this point? They're still just three points behind the Hawks despite their current 0-4-2 slump. Will their ship be righted?
> Jan. 14th: @ Detroit
Oh. Them again?
> Jan. 15th: SAN JOSE
Nice back-to-back

> Jan. 18th: BUFFALO
One of the disappointments of the East desperately needs Ryan Miller to be Ryan Miller again

> Jan. 20th: FLORIDA
Maybe the best line in hockey (in Kris Versteeg's & Brian Campbell's first game back) & maybe the biggest surprise in hockey, leading the Southeast. Big.

> Jan. 21st: @ Nashville
Which way will the Preds be streaking at this point?

> Jan. 24th: NASHVILLE
Never fun facing Trotzy's Troop twice in a row
> Jan. 31st: @ Vancouver
They have six days of rest to rev up for the start of the massive roadie. Where will the last two Western Conference champions stand at this point?

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!