Blackhawks

Refocused Corey Crawford continues to shut down opposition

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Refocused Corey Crawford continues to shut down opposition

Corey Crawford’s focus wasn’t where it needed to be earlier this season.

The Blackhawks goaltender started off well, giving the team a chance to win and recording back-to-back 1-0 shutouts at a time when the team’s offense was generating very little. Then Crawford started allowing goals, the quantity and lack-of quality ones that bring his critics out. Crawford was, as he later put it, “complacent.”

In his last six starts, however, Crawford has been anything but complacent. He’s been focused. He’s been steady. He’s been stingy. And he’s a big reason why the Blackhawks have been stringing more victories together lately.

Crawford recorded a 33-stop shutout, his third shutout in his past four starts, when the Blackhawks beat the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night. It was another outstanding performance in a month full of them for Crawford.

[MORE HAWKS: Patrick Kane returns to Buffalo for first time since investigation]

“It’s not bad. I’ll take it,” Crawford said with a smile when asked about his recent shutouts. “I’m just really playing game by game and… it’s just being focused the whole 60 minutes.”

In his last six games, which include five victories and three shutouts, Crawford has allowed just four goals. He allowed that many in one game against the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 3. It shows how Crawford has indeed put the focus back where it belongs. So is this his best stretch ever?

“This year, for sure,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You look at every year, he’s had some amazing stretches and he just keeps doing it. But he’s very efficient [right now]. His movement, tracking of the puck, his quickness, anticipation, everything seems to be in order. It’s a real good stretch for him and for us.”

Crawford didn’t give any specifics of how he shook his complacency, other than just battling through it. The Blackhawks defense has been better lately, which certainly helps. Crawford has credited the team’s defense for getting a lot of pucks out of his way, eliminating those second-chance opportunities. But there have been games where Crawford’s still faced a lot of quality shots and he’s been the Blackhawks’ best defender.

[SHOP: Hey Blackhawks fans! Get your copy of the One Goal III book]

“He’s played a lot of good hockey ever since he took the starting job a few years ago. When he’s playing the way he is right now he gives that whole team confidence,” Duncan Keith said. “He keeps us in games if we’re not playing our best. And when he’s not getting a lot of work in certain games he’s there to make the save, too.”

Whatever caused Crawford to lose focus for a stretch, to be complacent, is gone. He’s been locked in lately, and he and the Blackhawks are reaping the results of his hot streak.

“I felt pretty good at the beginning of the year and then stuff started going in. It goes like that,” Crawford said. “You just try to eliminate the waves and try to have more good ones than bad ones, obviously.”

Drake Caggiula on what it’s like to play alongside Blackhawks idols Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews

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Drake Caggiula on what it’s like to play alongside Blackhawks idols Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews

Drake Caggiula has been with the Blackhawks for only three weeks. But he's quickly worked his way up the lineup.

On Sunday in a nationally-televised game against the reigning Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, Caggiula found himself in a dream scenario. He was promoted to the top line with Jonathan Toews, which happened to be the same game the Blackhawks captain was reunited with Patrick Kane. 

Why was it so special for Caggiula? Because these are two players he looked up to as a kid.

"You come to the rink and you see your number next to two Blackhawks legends, it's a pretty cool thing," Caggiula said. "It's a little extra special for me because I grew up idolizing those two players. The biggest reason why I went to North Dakota was because of Jonny Toews. And I used to watch Patty Kane's highlights on YouTube and then go in my basement and try to copy them. It's pretty special to come in the room and see your name is beside theirs."

Most young players would be starstruck. Maybe Caggiula was. But he knew he needed to get past that phase quickly in order to be effective on their line.

"It was a pretty special thing for me to play with them," Caggiula said. "But at the same time you just got to remember you're playing hockey, you're on the same team and you have a job to do. You can't get caught up in that starstruck moment. You've got to make sure you're doing what you're capable of doing. That's just playing the game the right way and try not to get caught up in who you're playing with."

It's safe to say Caggiula didn't get too caught up in it. He turned in his best performance in a Blackhawks sweater in that 8-5 win over the Capitals, and did so while logging 16:40 of ice time. Oddly, he didn't make it on the score sheet despite linemates Kane and Toews combining for 10 points (five goals, five assists).

But he deserved to be.

"He played a perfect game," Kane said of Caggiula. "Won a lot of battles, did a lot of good things. It's unfortunate that he didn't show up on the score sheet more than he did, but he played a great game for us. It takes commitment and courage to try for those 50-50 battles, to go to the net to screen the goalie and I'm coming in there and I'm just shooting it on net trying to pick a corner and he did a great job to screen."

Toews concurred, and envisioned Caggiula's style of play working well with his going forward.

"He's got a lot of skill and he's not afraid for his size to be strong with the puck in the lane and traffic," Toews said. "I told him he needs to be a little more selfish when he has a chance to score. Don't hesitate to shoot the puck. I thought he was a good complement for myself. He's one of those types of guys I enjoy playing with."  

Caggiula isn't a stranger when it comes to playing with star players. He played in Edmonton with Connor McDavid, who became a close friend of his. And the two produced together. 

In the 141:31 minutes they spent at 5-on-5 together, the Oilers controlled 57.7 percent of the shot attempts and had a plus-2 goal differential, according to naturalstattrick.com. When Caggiula was away from McDavid, that percentage dipped to 46.3 and a minus-7 goal differential. 

Playing with McDavid is a little different than playing with Kane and Toews as a linemate, but the main goal is the same for Caggiula: get them the puck.

"Connor plays with a lot of speed," Caggiula said. "And his passing ability is so high end that for the most part I would just try to play a fast game with him and create space for him, and win loose pucks for him as well. But he's such a good passer that I just tried to put myself in good shooting opportunities and I ended up on that line with him being a shooter more than anything. The biggest part of my game is creating good forechecks, creating second opportunities and trying to have the puck a little more on my stick. And if we do turn it over, just find a way to get it back."  

That's what Caggiula brings on a line with Kane and Toews. While those two work their magic with the puck, Caggiula's job is to make sure they keep it. And when they don't have it, be aggressive in getting it back. Then go straight for the dirty areas to make life difficult on their opponents.

"I wouldn't say I'm necessarily a driver of the line, but I can definitely complement them and find ways to create open ice for them, create space for them, create time, create second opportunities by winning loose puck battles," Caggiula said. "They're obviously extremely skilled and extremely smart players, and if I have to go out there and do some of the dirty work and get in front of the net and take a few checks or whatever, I'm more than happy to do that. You're playing with some of the greatest players in the world right now, and you want to do whatever you can to stay there."

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: The Blackhawks' big win over the Capitals

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: The Blackhawks' big win over the Capitals

David Haugh, Jason Goff and Jordan Bernfield join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- Pat Boyle and Patrick Sharp drop by to talk about the Blackhawks' big win over the Capitals. Plus, Sharpie talks about the young Hawks who will be stars in the future.

12:00- Super Bowl LIII is set after a dramatic and controversial Championship Sunday. Does the NFL need to expand instant replay to include pass interference after a no-call cost the Saints a Super Bowl bid? Plus does the league need to change its overtime format after Patrick Mahomes didn't get to touch the ball at the end of the AFC title game?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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