The Chicago Blackhawks went risky with their goaltender setup in back-to-back games earlier this season against two Toronto teams. Another important opportunity to appropriately assign the goalies comes this weekend.
Back-to-back games in the NHL are an interesting beast. Skaters are tired, but most of them are going to play in both of those contests just because NHL rosters are a maximum of 23 people in size. It’s a challenge the Chicago Blackhawks and 30 other teams must face frequently.
The Blackhawks will take on that ordeal this weekend, with a road game against Minnesota on Saturday followed by a home tilt against Montreal on Sunday. So we wouldn’t expect a ton of lineup changes from the first game to the second — a Tanner Kero here, a Gustav Forsling or Jordan Oesterle there, but that’s all.
But what about the goaltenders? Rarely these days do you see a goaltender grab both ends of a back-to-back. This will typically only happen if a team is chasing points, requiring the starter to be involved to give his team a top chance at four points.
The Blackhawks haven’t played well of late, but they’re not in a point-chasing situation right now. So we’re going to see Corey Crawford in one of these weekend games and Anton Forsberg in another. How, then, do the Blackhawks line them up?
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The Blackhawks had three back-to-backs in October. They started Forsberg against Toronto and Crow against Montreal on Oct. 9-10. They went with Crow versus the Blues and Forsberg versus the Oilers on Oct. 18-19. And they decided on Crow against the Preds and Forsberg versus the Avalanche on Oct. 27-28.
The Blackhawks have lost five games in back-to-back situations this year, though it’s had little to do with the goaltending. Outside of the game against Colorado, I thought the Blackhawks’ netminders fared well across those six contests.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t important to get your matchups right. As such, I look back to the Toronto-Montreal setup. I found it odd that coach Joel Quenneville went with the youngster Forsberg in a difficult Toronto road environment, against a very speedy team the Blackhawks would undoubtedly have trouble with.
And have trouble they did, though an early goal surge and Forsberg standing on his head gave the Blackhawks a point. Meanwhile, Crow stoned the Habs the night after, continuing his career-long success (8-0-2, .954/1.49) against his hometown club.
While this setup almost gave the Blackhawks four points, I still think they should’ve flipped the script. Any games Forsberg gets right now can provide a positive learning experience at the NHL level, and I think you have to throw Crow out against the tougher team every time right now on these back-to-backs.
Da Windy City
So what about this weekend, with two struggling teams in Minnesota and Montreal?
Arguing for Crow in Minnesota, Forsberg vs. the Habs
Today’s morning skate will soon reveal to us who is starting Saturday, and therefore who is likely to play Sunday in net. Without knowing, I’d guess the Blackhawks stick with Crow against the Canadiens, given his extreme success.
I hope the opposite occurs, though. I think the Blackhawks need to start Crow on the road against a Central Division opponent, and give Forsberg the cushier start at the United Center against a nonconference enemy.
Here’s my reasoning. While the Wild have the fourth-worst Corsi-for mark as a team at 5-on-5 so far this season, I still think the Blackhawks face a bigger threat in them. Not having last change will prove to be problematic for Chicago, and should lead to more scoring chances for even the possession-challenged Wild.
Meanwhile, even though Montreal carries the league’s third-best even-strength possesion mark, the Blackhawks will be able to dictate final changes at home. It should allow them to better protect whoever is in net and somewhat offset Montreal’s possession strength.
On top of this, road games against division foes are always tough. Even with how bad the Avs have been in recent seasons, you know the Blackhawks have fits visiting Denver. They should be given a fierce game from the underachieving Wild, and you want your best netminder in front of that, especially with how sketchy Chicago has been in key areas.
Meanwhile, though you can argue Andrew Shaw and Phillip Danault will be fired up returning to the UC, a Montreal-Chicago matchup on a Sunday night doesn’t have that big of an oomph. The Habs will also be on the second half of a back-to-back themselves, traveling from a game against Winnipeg the night before. Tired legs should be the order, to the benefit of anyone in net.
And so, with all of that considered, I think it makes sense to throw Crow out against the Wild and give Forsberg the Montreal start. Will the Blackhawks do it this way? Again, my initial feeling is no. But I think their best chance to garner four points, given the way the team has played of late, is to align the goalies this way.