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How will Blackhawks respond to Corey Crawford’s latest injury?

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Anyone wanting to conduct a quick experiment on how a team manages life when they lose one of the best goaltenders in the league can look no further than the Chicago Blackhawks.

Corey Crawford, who sits second in save percentage among goalies who have played more than 20 games (starters, basically), will miss at least a week with a fresh injury to his upper body.

The answer to the headline, judging by Crawford’s stint on the shelf earlier this month, isn’t favorable. When Crawford missed three games with injury, the Blackhawks struggled and lost all three. So it’s not unwise to say that Chicago’s playoff picture could hinge greatly on how the team navigates the latest knock for Crawford.

Crawford has been sensational for the Blackhawks and very much the reason why the Blackhawks are even in the conversation for a playoff spot. Crawford’s importance was underlined when he rattled off five straight wins upon his return from injury earlier this month.

“He means a lot to us,” Quenneville told Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday. “You look around at all the goaltenders in the league, he’s probably had the best year to date. How many goalie wins has he had? More than just a few. So we were talking today, we’re going to need everybody to absorb some responsibility here, do a little more individually, adding up collectively. And that can make us a better team. . . . It’s going to be a great test knowing that this could be our most critical part of the year.”

“Great” probably doesn’t mean fun and fantastic, but rather something that presents a massive challenge to the team teetering on the playoff bubble.

The Blackhawks will have to depend on the undependable Anton Forsberg, who has one win in 11 appearances this season. Forsberg starts on Thursday night as the Blackhawks embark on a four-game road trip that goes through Western Canada before a quick stop in New York next week.

As Quenneville pointed out, the Blackhawks are going to need an uptick in their play to make up for Crawford’s absence.

Jonathan Toews hasn’t recorded a point in his past four games, so that might be a start. Ditto for Alex DeBrincat, who is without a point during the same stretch.

While Crawford’s success has been credited to the loaded team in front of him at times in the past, there’s simply not much room for that argument this season for the two-time Stanley Cup winner. And that means Forsberg is going to have to be solid over the coming days (and maybe weeks) if the Blackhawks want to punch their playoff ticket.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Alex DeBrincat is defying your expectations

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No one expected this from Alex DeBrincat.

He was passed over 38 times by 25 teams in the 2016 NHL Draft.

He was undersized, his linemates were the reason for his successes in junior hockey and he wasn’t very good at the World Juniors.

The excuses for his pending failure were already laid out for him. He just had to walk the path.

Instead, DeBrincat went in a different direction, one where the questions about his stature and teammates have shifted to a singular query: ‘How good can DeBrincat become?’

Chicago Blackhawks fans have the luxury of salivating over the thought of DeBrincat’s ceiling.

The 19-year-old has been all the rage in Chi-Town and across the NHL after he notched his first career hat trick on Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks, an outing that catapulted him (if he wasn’t already there) into the same conversation as fellow rookies Clayton Keller in Arizona, Matthew Barzal in New York (Islanders) and Brock Boeser in Vancouver.

With 10 goals and 18 points in 24 games, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman may just have the steal of the 2016 draft in DeBrincat. The Michigan native is on pace for over 30 goals, which would easily have his name in the conversation for the Calder Trophy — if not engraved on it — if he can keep it up.

As mentioned above, DeBrincat’s size may have been the main reason he slid to the Blackhawks in the second round.

He’s listed at a diminutive 5-foot-7 (two inches shorter than Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames) and weighs in at only 165 pounds, numbers that don’t add up to elite talent in the eyes of many.

He’s certainly no heavyweight, but he has the ability (like Gaudreau) to use his small size as an advantage when it comes to being elusive and hard to contain.

It would have been foolish, too, to overlook what he was able to achieve offensively at the junior level. It should come as no surprise to anyone that DeBrincat can score. A lot.

DeBrincat was an elite-level goal scorer and point producer with the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League, and while junior success doesn’t always equate to the same in the NHL (just ask Eric Fehr), it doesn’t hurt either.

Here’s the breakdown of DeBrincat’s three-year junior career:

  • 191 games played
  • 167 goals
  • 165 assists
  • 332 points

Compare that to Connor McDavid’s three-year junior career with the Erie Otters:

  • 166 games played
  • 97 goals
  • 188 assists
  • 285 points

DeBrincat is, of course, not McDavid. But those are some bloody impressive numbers, regardless.

But there’s an argument that he always played with great players. From teammates in McDavid to Dylan Strome in Erie to Auston Matthews with Team USA, DeBrincat has been blessed with some exceptional talent as linemates.

But they’re not pulling the trigger for him. That knack for putting pucks in the back of the net is DeBrincat’s best trait.

And he makes it look pretty effortless.

Now, DeBrincat has the advantage of not being the guy who has to be leaned upon heavily in Chicago. He doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting yet, and that will aid in his development.

“He does all the things that scorers do,” coach Joel Quenneville said on Tuesday. “How good he’s going to be, it’ll be fun to watch that play out because he has the makings of being a special player.”

Indeed.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck