The Chicago Blackhawks season started with several questions facing them as they prepared for the 2018-19 NHL season. There were questions about the ability of the Blackhawks core to return to their Stanley Cup form. The Blackhawks defence was also a huge question mark after last seasons dismal performance. Goaltending was another area with many wondering who would start in goal if Corey Crawford didn’t return from injury.
Chicago Blackhawks Season Looks Brighter
Eight games into the season we find the Blackhawks often struggling, but they have been winning ugly. There are many areas of the team that need improvement, but goaltending is now looking better. After Cam Ward started the first five games Corey Crawford returned to action on October 18th after almost 10 months being out of the lineup. Crawford has played two games and is showing signs he has recovered fully from his concussion issues. His level of play in the two games has been reminiscent of the Vezina worthy play he provided before being injured and lost for the season.
Crawford in two games has a 2.05 goals-against-average, and a .941 save percentage. His first game back was a 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes last Thursday. The underwhelming Coyotes gave the Blackhawks defence fits all night and Crawford still played well. This was the take by Brian Sandelow of thesportingnews.com:
“He made 27 saves in the Blackhawks’ 4-1 loss to Arizona. Behind a Chicago defense that’s been leaky and given up prime chance after prime chance to begin the season, Crawford stood tall and gave few clues that he was playing for the first time since before last Christmas.”
Crawford’s next game was equally impressive as he led the Blackhawks to a 4-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Crawford’s tremendous play kept his team in the game until they could find their way to victory. Steve Greenberg of the Chicago Sun Times described Crawford’s play:
“When he shot out of a crouch to stop Pierre-Luc Dubois’ straight-on blast in the second period, it started to feel like there wasn’t going to be anything the Blue Jackets might throw at Crawford that he wouldn’t be able to handle.”
“He kept us in that one tonight,” Kane said. “We didn’t have the best first two periods, but he was standing on his head for us.”
Cam Ward Surviving
While Corey Crawford worked his way back into game shape, Cam Ward started the other six games for the Blackhawks. Ward’s record is 3-1-2 with a 4.23 goals-against-average, and .885 save percentage. Ward has struggled at times in net but competed well enough and got enough offensive support to pick up three wins. His stats are atrocious but the Blackhawks goal scoring has come through when needed. Ward should now be able to settle into the backup goalie role and provide Crawford with rest as required. This will take the pressure off of Ward to be “the guy” in net and hopefully provide a solid backup to Crawford.
Unfortunately for Ward, his time in net may not be as enjoyable as he would like. The Blackhawks are still struggling to provide solid defensive coverage and they hit a new low in their last game. Sunday night the Blackhawks provided Ward with zero support against the impressive Tampa Bay Lightning. As reported by Tim Stebbins of nbcsports.com:
“In the second period Sunday, the Blackhawks surrendered 33 shots on goal, tying a franchise record for most in a single period. The previous instance occurred March 4, 1941 against the Boston Bruins, a game that the Blackhawks lost 3-2.
While the Blackhawks tied a franchise record for shots on goal allowed, they actually set an NHL record at the same time. The NHL did not begin recording shots on goal as an “official” statistic until the 1997-98 season.”
Blackhawks Goaltending Moves
With the inspired play of Corey Crawford the Blackhawks placed goalie Anton Forsberg on waivers. Other teams have until noon on Tuesday to put in a claim for Forsberg 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. With the Blackhawks carrying two goalies going forward, confidence must be high that Crawford is back for good. If Forsberg is claimed the next goalies up would be Collin Delia or Kevin Lankinen.
Eight Games In
The Blackhawks find themselves in the middle of the Central Division standings currently at 4-2-2 with 10 points. Their play has been incredibly exciting yet frustrating to watch so far. They’ve scored the third most goals in the NHL with 30, exciting. Unfortunately, they have given up the third most goals with 32, frustrating.
Their special teams have been anything but special so far this young season. The Blackhawks penalty killing is 4th from the bottom at 70.8 percent. They’ve given up seven goals in eight games. Their “power” play has scored just three power play goals out of 27 chances and sits at 11.1 percent. They are tied for the fifth worst power play in the NHL. Both of these special teams needs to improve if the Blackhawks hope to compete for a playoff spot this season.
Going Forward with Corey Crawford
With the return of Corey Crawford the Blackhawks season does look brighter. Yet to be a top team their overall play needs to improve defensively and they have to start being harder to play against. Crawford and Ward should not be expected to be sitting ducks in a shooting gallery game in and game out. If they can turn their game around with improved defence and special teams the Blackhawks season has a chance to be very entertaining.
Main Photo: CHICAGO, IL – JANUARY 17: Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks follows the action against the Montreal Canadiens at the United Center on January 17, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)