Blackhawks coach blames Corey Crawford’s struggles on sophomore slump

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Perhaps the Chicago Blackhawks’ defense allowed quality chances in the limited shots that Corey Crawford saw against the Phoenix Coyotes, but it still seemed pretty clear that Crawford’s faults were magnified in that series. That first-round loss might just have been the low point in a series of struggles for Crawford after a surprisingly successful rookie season, but coach Joel Quenneville hinted to Jesse Rogers that it might have just been a sophomore slump.

“You look at the history of goaltenders around the league … there is a little bit of a bounce factor in that second year,” Quenneville said. “A number of top goalies have had that career path. We anticipate Corey getting right back on track.”

That may be true, but there are plenty of netminders who essentially were one-hit wonders. Guys like Andrew Raycroft and Steve Mason earned Calder Trophies only to see their career outlooks decline from “star of the future” to scratching and clawing just to retain a backup gig.

The difference between being a successful NHL goalie and a “sieve” often comes down to stoping one or two percent more shots than the other guy, so any number of factors can explain a downfall. Perhaps a breakout rookie believes his own hype and rests on his laurels a bit. Maybe it’s like a major league pitcher; after a year or so, people figure out your weaknesses and you can’t “sneak up” on anybody anymore.

Of course, there’s also the distinct possibility that a given goalie just isn’t very good.

Really, the only time Crawford looked truly exceptional was when the Blackhawks almost came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Vancouver Canucks in a series in 2011. Crawford racked up an impressive .927 save percentage in that seven-game series but eventually fell to Vancouver.

His 2010-11 numbers were solid, but not quite spectacular. No doubt about it, Crawford’s stats tumbled last season, forcing Chicago to do some soul searching. They seem content to roll with Crawford – who has two more years left on his contract – for now, but we’ll find out soon enough if 2011-12 was a bump in the road or merely a sign of things to come.

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.