Corey Crawford, Blackhawks Remain Unbeaten

When the schedule for the lockout-shortened season was released, the Blackhawks were handed one of the toughest opening series in the league. Road games at the defending champion Kings and at the Coyotes – who eliminate the Hawks from the playoffs in April – followed by a home opener against the Blues presented a very real challenge.

Three teams with goaltenders that were, last season, among the game’s elite.

Three teams that play a strong, physical game that has, in recent seasons, given the Blackhawks trouble.

And three teams that most people expect to be battling for the Western Conference crown in April.

When the final horn sounded at the United Center on Tuesday night, Chicago improved to 3-0-0 and, most importantly, had beaten all three in regulation.

Corey Crawford

Corey Crawford had a fantastic game against St. Louis, allowing only two goals against 34 shots. His positioning was better, his rebounds were directed away from the net more consistently, and he made big saves when the Hawks needed them.

Crawford faced 16 shots in the third period alone, as the Blues tried desperately to come back from a three-goal deficit. While he did allow two past him, he made a number of big stops to preserve the victory.

The game-winning goal was credited to Viktor Stalberg, his second tally of the young season. He was also tied with Brent Seabrook for a team-high three hits in the game, and appears to be excelling in the third line role he’s been given to start the season.

Seabrook scored the Hawks’ second goal, getting a piece of a Duncan Keith shot in the second period. Seabrook and Keith combined to block nine shots in the game and looked better as the game progressed. It still looks like the Blackhawks’ top defensive pair is getting into game shape, and Tuesday night was another step forward for them.

Coach Joel Quenneville continued to spread out the ice time among his defensemen, a trend that has played out through all three games so far and could be a major factor in the Hawks’ ability to make a deep playoff run. Keith and Seabrook led the defensemen in ice time, but neither was over 23 minutes in the game; last year, they were regularly skating around 30 minutes per game early in the season.

Oh, and Patrick Kane continued his hot start to the season by undressing Brian Elliott to open the scoring.

There were a number of positives throughout the box score on Tuesday evening. Nick Leddy was credited with another assist, giving him three in as many games. Marcus Kruger’s defensive play continued to be tremendous; he and Andrew Shaw each won five of 11 faceoffs as the Blackhawks dominated at the dot, winning 34 of 60 total draws.

Jonathan Toews was credited with another assist and won 12 of 18 faceoffs. In the early going, Toews has won 62.7 percent of his faceoffs (42 of 67) to pace an improved group. Dave Bolland had another strong game between Kane and Patrick Sharp, winning 10 of 18 faceoffs and leading the team with three takeaways.

There are a lot of positives when a team is undefeated, obviously, and this Hawks team is rolling early on. And, on this team, it’s easy to praise individuals when some of the elite talent in the league is skating on the top two lines.

But the overall team game – especially special teams – has been dramatically better this season. The Blackhawks did allow a power play goal on Tuesday night, but they have successfully killed nine of 10 short-handed opportunities in the season’s first three games. The play of Kruger and Michael Frolik on the first unit has been a major contributor to the improvement.

On the other special teams unit, the Hawks have scored a power play goal in all three games. There are still times when they look lost and unable to enter/stay in the offensive zone, but converting against three strong defensive teams shows solid improvement on this group as well.

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15 Responses to Corey Crawford, Blackhawks Remain Unbeaten

  1. Brad Stevenson says:

    Nice report Tab…yes, things are going very well against three very good, tough teams, because the Hawks are playing competitive, physical hockey…they are giving hits as much as they are receiving them. They are skating well as a team and keeping the puck in front of them…they are playing it smart and simple, and that is the trademark of Joel Queenville…after winning the Cup he has finally gotten through to this team (likely because there are many younger faces), that they have to play disciplined hockey to win, and they are doing it.

    STs are better, but the PP still needs a lot more work…but the key things are there…on both units they are MOVING THEIR FEET, and not standing around, like they did for the past 2 seasons, this makes it HARDER for the opposition, and that is why we are having success…this has been my biggest criticism of the Hawks for the past two years…that we had become to easy to prepare for and play against (sans Toews).

    Now, we are presenting huge match up problems with two #1 lines, and then two excellent “bottom” lines with Shaw’s excellent group, and the play of Kruger and Frolik. I have said this time and time again, when the Hawks can roll 4 lines (and keep Toews, Seabrook and Keith fresh) we WIN hockey games…

    Stahlberg has looked great, and I would love to see him on the 1st line, but Q is probably not wanting to break apart a tremendous 3rd line…Shaw has been very good once again, and Bickell is a different hockey player. And as for 14 goals in 3 non OT games being blamed away on goalies not being ready, the Hawks have had plenty of huge opportunities to double this total because of their aggressive style of play…scoring goals (better goaltending or not) is not going to be this team’s problem, keeping them out of the net will always be the challenge…and so far we have been much better…and here’s to hoping that Rozsival stays in the line up, as he is simply too good not to dress in favour of Brookbank.

  2. Dickie Dunn says:

    Tab, good recap.

    I was surprised that Crawford was not awarded the game’s #1 star.

  3. Peter says:

    Brad,
    I am with you, 4 lines is the key. Just wear people down by being relentless.

  4. SouthSideHawkMan117 says:

    Last night game was exciting, Crow’s puck handling does scare me ALOT. But the PK was good. The PP wasnt great however they got result which is all that matter. Good game against a quality divisional team.

  5. wall says:

    Blues are a very tough team to play… excluding the 1st several minutes, game was even to perhaps slight advantage to Blues.

    Hawks team speed, skating, and passing has been great.
    Biggest weakness has been entering the zone on PP!!!!! And Emery’s 1 game/rebound control!

    Blues are a legit team, big, skilled, and some more young picks coming soon! This was 1st time all this year where Hawks really couldn’t cycle puck much… credit to Blues.

    Kruger has been great!
    I hope Stals slows down… or there will be no way to keep him next year!

    Anyone know how injuryretirement pertains to Cap??? Looking at both Monty and Olesz… can we pay a doctor to say “they can’t play ever again”???

    Lastly, Hawks will have at least 3 mill this year to “rent” a player down the stretch!!!

  6. Tab you are basically right on the majority of points but regarding Crawford I have reservations for which I pray I will be proven wrong when playoff time comes along. Crawford did make those stops against St Louis but he is shaky in general. I believe there is a mentality issue in that he is petrified when the real pressure comes on. The same way he was petrified when Phoenix scored those soft goals trickling through his pads last year during the playoffs in overtime where he was petrified. The rest of the team has the smell of 2010. It seems that after shedding Dales’ team due to the cap and after the Cup hangover, things have fallen into place. But if the goal is the Cup (which this year it must be and not like the previous two where we said things like “going deep in the playoffs”) I dont’ think he can take that pressure. Remember that Niemi in 2010 had his bad days but basically with some unbelievable stuff in the playoffs put us there. What is wrong with Crawford? Is it a sophomore slump etc etc and he needs only to get confidence or is it FEAR and ANXIETY when things get really tough and on the line? He is built and young and the stuff is there for him to be great. But Tab do you think he can be the one to lead us into the promised land? We cannot go there with spectacular goal tending.

  7. Tim G says:

    Wall: I’m with you one Stalberg… if he stays hot, he going to price himself out of our roster. Almost makes me think that he would be a tradable chip in a “rental scenrio” type trade, where we pick up a Center or Top 4 dman. Bickell may do the same thing. And with a guy like Hayes traped in the AHL and Carcillo still with one year left, i think its hard to envision Bicks getting the big payday from us. Unless he is taking less than what they could get else where i think he’s gone. If Saad plays his way onto the first line for good, Carcillo would slide down to the 3rd/4th line, pushing out most likely Frolik. If Stalberg takes a “Frolik-esque” contract (2.5mil/year) we would take that all day. But if he lights it up, he’s going to get the type of deal Versteeg got (4Mil).

    Bottom line as I see it, one of Bicks/Stalberg gets dealt at the dealt at the deadline for a 3rd/4th rounder… maybe after the year, prior to the draft (but at that point you would only get a 7th rounder for “negotiating rights” as we did with Kopecky). and then Frolik is dealt on draft day or prior to the season starting for a 4th rounder. The money saved by trading Frolik and one of those two, would pay for the other.

    I would be suprised if 2, let alone all 3, are still with the Hawks in 2014. Stalberg is the best player, but I think Bicks is the most likely to take a discount. He is a 3rd liner on most teams, where as Stalberg can play a top-6 role. I look at the two of them very much like Versteeg and Brouwer. I think Frolik is replacable with guys like Morin, Smith, Beach, Pirri, etc.

    In a perfect world, we would fine someone to take Hammer, Olesz, and Frolik, and then maybe we can sign both Stalberg and Bickell. But even then it blocks our AHL guys from coming up and then they will all be RFA’s with little reason to sign with us, if the top 9 spots are all signed for the next 3-4 years.

    I think all 3 could very well be gone at the end of the year, even though I’m not a huge fan of that thought.

  8. wall says:

    Frolik is a much better skater, checker than all of the AHL guys you mentioned!!!!
    So even when he is shanking shots… he is useful! Morin, Beach- NO! Smith is worker- but can’t do what Fro does… Pirri -sniper- but still weak in most other parts of game.

    Danault and Teuvo will be here before most of the boys you just mentioned!

  9. Mike says:

    Great comments all……
    We gotta keep up the D. I don’t mind giving Brookbank a shot….in place of Hammer or Oduya…..

    A little surprised Bowman didn’t make a public move for Gomez, he’d make a great 4th line center…..

    Keep Stalberg on the third line. Its a natural as he is better at sniping than assisting……

    Hawks will be OK in Salary cap next year.

  10. Greg says:

    I can’t believe there’s talk of moving Hammer here…moving him only lessens your NHL-quality backliner depth…he looks like he’s regaining his level of play from several years ago. He’d be a top pair dman on numerous teams…why move a guy of that quality when we just went thru several seasons of lackluster blue line play?
    If Pirri & Morin were NHL caliber they would have made the move by now…I don’t see it ever happening; they’re 4a players and nothing more.
    Teivu is the real deal and don’t be surprised if he’s here next year.
    I’m not ready to add Stalberg and Bickell to the ‘must-have’ side of the ledger just yet…3 games far too early to open the checkbook especially for guy’s who have been mediocre & inconsistent at best in the past.
    Cro 1st star last night with 2 GA? Never going to happen…

  11. Greg says:

    Tab, are you hearing anything on Mayers? Is he in Q’s doghouse or is it just a matter of numbers and others playing well so far?

  12. Tab Bamford says:

    As long as Kane-Bolland-Sharp is together, and Kruger & Shaw are healthy, I do not consider 2C to be an area of need.

    And with the list of teams desperate for defensemen growin every day – Detroit, LA now joining the group – why would the Blackhawks jump into a trade market that will undoubtedly overpay for a top-4 d-man? The Hawks are skating four guys that, in the eyes of many around the league, could be 2nd pair d-men (Hjalmarsson, Oduya, Rozsival & Leddy). As a #7 d-man, Brookbank’s a nice player.

    And why on the good Lord’s earth would the Hawks call on Scott Gomez? Would you rather have Gomez than Mayers, Shaw or Kruger? I wouldn’t.

  13. Tim G says:

    Greg: Im not trying to insinuate that Hammer needs to be traded. I was just implying that if we could lessen the cap hit for future seasons and still bring in a Top 4 D man so we dont loss our depth then that would be ideal (purely for cap). But like Tab said, and i didn’t mention, there will be 4-5 teams willing to OVERPAY for the same type of guy in my theoretical situation, so getting the value I proposed is unlikely.

    Wall: I do agree that right now Frolik is better than all those guys. But with Kane, Hossa, Toews, and Sharp all locked up long term, I dont think Frolik gets an extention when his contract is up. If he does, that probably means Stalberg and/or Bickell are not resigned. Sure the young kids aren’t as polished and he is a nice piece to have next to kruger but IMO our roster is made or broken over Frolik.

  14. Stinky says:

    If Frolik were to be moved it would be after the season so they could retain Stalberg.

    Maybe at the TDL if the right deal came across but moving the player right now makes little sense.

    Moving anyone makes little sense right now. With the condensed schedule depth is going to be paramount on the blue line as well as with the forwards. They could have a good chance to win the Cup if this level of play continues.

    If Crawford truly has returned to 2010-2011 form then there will be little to worry about in net unless he gets injured or Emery continues to be victimized.

  15. Brad Stevenson says:

    You can’t teach or coach speed…to that end, if Stahlberg discovers his “soft hands” this season and becomes a bona fide sniper, you bite the bullet and sign him long term…no questions here…get rid of who you have to get rid of to do so, because Stahlberg has not only the great speed, he has size, he hits, he back checks, and has a great team attitude…there is NO WAY we should be looking to trade this kid…this may very well turn out to be Bowman’s best trade, so he shouldn’t be in any hurry to execute a trade for Stahlberg either.

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