Chicago Blackhawks: Blackhawk Down or Silver Lining Playbook?
By Stephen Yatsushiro
The Chicago Blackhawks placed starting goalie Corey Crawford on injured reserve with no timetable to return. What does this mean for the ‘Hawks?
On the coldest day of the year, the ‘Hawks placed their most valuable player this season on injured reserve. This even colder news forced a shiver down the spine of many fans. With the ‘Hawks surrendering the most scoring chances in recent years, the loss of Crawford could spell doom. Or it could have the opposite effect.
In my Holiday Wish List article, I highlighted the fact that the ‘Hawks are surrendering an alarming number of high quality scoring chances. It’s been a recurring theme to see odd-man rushes, breakaways, and point-blank shots surrendered game after game. This has been the result of poor team defense. And Crawford has been there to bail them out with Vezina-worthy performances. NHL Network’s Kevin Weekes even rates Crawford in the top five goalies in the league in John Dietz’s recent article in The Daily Herald.
Well, a reasonable conclusion would be that with Crawford out indefinitely, there will be an infinite number of goals scored against the ‘Hawks. But as broadcaster Pat Foley likes to say, “Not so fast, Kowalski!”
Back to the future
In past seasons, the ‘Hawks have circled the wagons to play a defense-first brand of hockey with a rookie goalie. Remember the likes of Antti Niemi, Antti Raanta, Scott Darling, and young Crawford? All were the beneficiaries of concerted efforts to suppress opponents’ shots when they were rookies. Anton Forsberg has shown pretty good poise so far, but could be even better with some solid defense in front of him. Per Sun-Times Mark Lazerus, the ‘Hawks are preparing for the Vancouver Canucks with these units in front of Forsberg:
These forward lines will need to tilt the ice toward the Canucks’ zone with solid puck possession and help out the defense in their own zone. This is especially important for the second line, as they have been outplayed in their own zone frequently. The redesigned third line with recalled David Kampf will need to play responsibly in all three zones, and I for one will be watching them closely.
The defense will need to protect the high danger areas from the likes of the Sedin twins. Personally, I’d like to see the defensive pairings as:
I think it’s time to see what the physical Connor Murphy can do in a top pairing role. He has been solid in his sheltered minutes by clearing out the home plate area around the net. In addition to limiting shots, he has the opponents’ heads on a swivel with some big hits. Without taking anything away from the Canucks, they would be a good tune up for Murphy with the high-flying Oilers coming up next on Friday night. And the stay-at-home Murphy would give Duncan Keith license to do Duncan Keith things with the puck.
Gustav Forsling and Jan Rutta were becoming the new shut down pair until Rutta was injured. With their combined speed, they’ve been able to track down pucks and clear their zone efficiently. I’d like to see this pair continue developing.
Michal Kempny and Brent Seabrook have been an effective pair and with limited minutes, Kempny can continue to find his game and Seabrook can avoid exhaustion. In a third pairing role, these two could really dominate.
Silver lining playbook
So here the ‘Hawks go forward without Corey Crawford in a crucial point in the season. Teams are clustered in the standings and every game matters. It’s time for this team to dig down deep and find their inner Chris Chelios to play defense with smarts and passion and HELP THE GOALIE. If they can do that and survive this stretch, they’ll be an even better defensive team when Crawford does return. That would be the silver lining heading into the playoff push.
Next: Stan Bowman Must Save Joel Quenneville From Himself
What are your thoughts on the Crawford-less ‘Hawks?