Blackhawks

Look back fast then move on: Five thoughts on the Blackhawks

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Look back fast then move on: Five thoughts on the Blackhawks

Ah, here we are, folks, in 2016. It’s a time to reflect on the past and make resolutions for the future (if you’re into that sort of thing).

For the Blackhawks, they finished 2015 with two victories. They were two interesting, entertaining victories, but they were victories nonetheless. They’ll enjoy a quick respite but, beginning Sunday, the Blackhawks start another busy month, in which they’ll play 14 games in 24 days.

So with this very brief respite upon us, let’s look at Five Thoughts on how the Blackhawks finished 2015 and what awaits them in 2016:

1. Jonathan Toews’ overtime goals. It’s just becoming something you expect: if the Blackhawks head to overtime, you can expect Toews to score the game winner. Toews did it again on Thursday, scoring his league-leading fourth overtime goal. He also set a single-season franchise record for overtime goals. Some may lament Toews not having more goals overall this season but ultimately, you need your captain to come through at clutchtimes. Scoring a bunch of overtime winners fits that description.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

2. Is that third line onto something? Andrew Desjardins, Phillip Danault and Teuvo Teravainen: it may not be an on-paper combination that screams “offense,” but that’s exactly what these three have created lately. Desjardins has three goals in his last two games. Teravainen has three assists in the same two games and Danault has two assists. The Blackhawks wanted to get their supplementary scoring going and these three have gotten that third line involved in the offense.

3. Giving up the goals. There’s always another side, isn’t there? The Blackhawks’ goaltending during most of December was stellar. Corey Crawford, who had three shutouts last month, was a big part of that. But he and Scott Darling gave up eight goals combined against the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche. Darling told the Sun Times he was feeling alittle rusty – it was just his second start in December and third in a month. Perhaps Crawford was feeling the effects of a busy month. The Blackhawks’ goaltending, overall, has been good this season. There’s no reason to think it won’t return to being stingy soon.

[MORE: How good have the Blackhawks been on the power play on the road?]

4. The Blackhawks’ power play is good. Repeat that, folks, because it’s not something you’ve been able to say the last few years. That power play that was long futile despite the amount of talent is futile no more. It’s third overall in the NHL, converting 23.8 percent of its chances. Now it’s not as good at home (12th, 20 percent), where you could argue the Blackhawks fall into that wait-and-pass-a-lot habit more often. But it’s the league’s best on the road, recording four power-play goals in the past two games.

5. Looking back, then moving forward. The Central Division continues to be an entertaining one that, outside of Dallas, is allowing little breathing room. But the Blackhawks are keeping pace; they finished 2015 in third place with 48 points, two behind St. Louis and two ahead of Minnesota. The Stars lead with 59 points. The Blackhawks won’t head into January thinking, “we have to catch the Stars.” They’ve been here, done this before. It’s not about finishing first; it’s about getting into the playoffs and seeing what happens from there. Certainly, it’s not going to get easier. But the Blackhawks, who went through a lot of changes, two injuries – one current – and a myriad of line changes, are doing fine. 

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!