Another Crawford Tour De Force


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Make no mistake, the first star, if you will, of the Blackhawks’ 2017-18 season thus far has been goaltender Corey Crawford.

Delivering his second straight shutout last night, in a 2-0 road win over the Wild at Excel Energy Center in St. Paul, Crawford stopped 24 shots, many of them high quality chances. Among NHL starting goalies with over 8 games played this season, Crawford leads the league with a .945 save% and 1.75 GAA.

The other story last night in St. Paul, also a continuation of the storyline from the previous outing against Philadelphia, was improved overall team play.  It’s hard to say if this Wild team is that much better at all than the middling Flyers, and probably not in the absence of Zach Parise, but the Blackhawks last 5-6 periods have been their best of the season since their first 5-6 periods of the season.

Breakouts were cleaner and faster. There were less of the structural breakdowns and poor puck control at both blue lines that have plagued the team much of the early season. And the Hawks’ possession numbers were not surprisingly in positive territory yet again.

Anisimov again

What’s also interesting to note is the Hawks are getting contribution not from the superstars, so much as the supporting cast. Artem Anisimov, the, ehhhhhhhh, “well compensated” third line center, scored in his 4th straight game, which is really helpful in terms of establishing production from a third “scoring line.”

Anisimov’s tally last night was also on . . . the power play, another positive development.

Winger Alex DeBrincat got another empty net goal (2 of the heavily hyped  rookie’s 3 goals this season have gone into an empty net), which drove the Hawk media into the usual paroxysms of exultation. But DeBrincat played well at times overall. There was the usual mind-boggling neutral zone turnover or two (depends on how you define mind-boggling, I guess), but there were also some smart plays around the blue lines that kept opportunities alive. He also had a couple of chances close in that he failed to convert—and perhaps those will come.

To my eye, the big improvement in the team over 200 feet of play is due to the stabilized defensive pairings. I have to admit, when I saw what Joel Quenneville was thinking last week, with Jan Rutta bouncing out to his off side as an NHL rookie and Cody Franson slotted in with Duncan Keith, I basically thought Quenneville was just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.  But, for two games anyway, the pairings feel stable and competent.

Fear the Kempny

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out yet another solid game from none other than Michal Kempny, playing with Connor Murphy on what is ostensibly Chicago’s third defense pair. Kempny played over 18 minutes and led the team in shots on goal—by a wide margin—with 6, many of which seemed to give Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk problems. The other thing about Kempny which often goes unnoticed by most, is how he uses his superior foot speed to beat opponents to pucks and take away opportunities.

Next up: the Montreal Canadiens tonight in the latter side of a back-to-back at the United Center. I will preview that game separately this morning.