New Blackhawks following lead of 'locked-in' core


New Blackhawks following lead of 'locked-in' core

Trevor Daley had watched the Blackhawks from afar for the last several years. He saw how they worked collectively as a group, how they got through ups and downs and how they won — and won and won.

Now he’s seeing it up close.

“These guys are locked in,” he said following Tuesday’s practice at Johnny’s IceHouse. “I’m looking forward to being a part of it.”

The Blackhawks have done a lot of winning these last few seasons, and it starts with a core that brings as much mental toughness and confidence as it does talent. That core will be instrumental again as the Blackhawks defend their Stanley Cup, starting with Wednesday's regular-season opener against the New York Rangers.

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For Daley, the chance to join this group, and possibly win a Cup with them, is enticing. He’s willing to do what’s asked of him because, obviously, what the Blackhawks are doing has worked pretty damn well lately.

“When you come in and you see what these guys have done — especially for someone like myself, who’s been in the league a lot of years and trying to accomplish what these guys have accomplished — it’s a no-brainer to come in and see what they do and follow,” he said. “Selfishly, what a great opportunity it is for me to come in and have guys like this around me and be able to see what they’re doing. Because at the end of the day, these guys have done what every other team in the league wants to do.”

Andrew Desjardins said he observed the same things when he was traded here last spring.

“There was just that feeling of winning. ‘Let’s be the best team, let’s be the best team every night and let’s ... let’s win,’” Desjardins said. “Obviously there are other things: the mindset, play the right way, do the right things with the puck and play with the style that makes us successful. But the bottom line is to win.”

While many moves have been made since the Blackhawks won the Cup in 2010, the core group — Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Patrick Kane, among others — remains largely intact. They’ve set the bar, and those who join the team have to meet it.

“The core group in here that really plants the seed of how things are done,” Corey Crawford said. “The guys who come in, our management has done a great job of bringing in the right guys to fill spots. It’s more these guys coming in and following what’s been going on here for a while.”

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Blackhawks recall Ville Pokka, assign Viktor Svedberg to Rockford]

At the same time, those new acquisitions bring some special elements, too. Many haven’t gone through the rigors of several long postseason, so they bring energy. And many — including Jamal Mayers, Michal Rozsival, Michal Handzus, Antoine Vermette and Kimmo Timonen — have joined the Blackhawks looking for their first Stanley Cup. That desire to win one brings an enthusiastic jolt to the core.

“Just their attitude, their excitement,” Bryan Bickell said of what the new guys add. “I’m sure everyone in the league wants to wear a Blackhawks jersey because they have a chance every year. The excitement lifts us to give them an opportunity to win. We want to win for them and for ourselves, too.”

The Blackhawks are embarking on another Cup defense. The other two weren’t easy; this one won’t be either. But the core that’s been in place here knows what it takes to vie for another Cup. Those who are new to the program know they need to heed and follow the core group and adapt to the Blackhawks’ system for their best chance to win. Recent results show it’s been a successful blueprint.

“Guys who (have been) around and know the systems and lead by example on the ice,” Bickell said. “Our leaders show (new players) the ropes, what Blackhawks hockey is all about, what we need and what we look forward to for a season to be successful.”

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


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!