Gameday Preview: Crawford Takes Center Stage
When the Chicago Blackhawks (29-14-6) match-up against the Nashville Predators (28-16-4) Tuesday night at the United Center, they’ll be looking regain a few components of their game that they might not have packed with them for their quick trip to the Music City.
Puck presence and physicality will be at the top of the list, as the Hawks were out-hit 22-10 last game against the Predators, and getting above 50% in faceoffs will also be crucial to pull out a win.
And while the club has already proven they can be dominate in the aforementioned areas they will have to do it tonight without their biggest catalyst in each category.
Jonathan Toews has been placed on injured reserve with an upper body injury — speculated to be associated with a slash he took to his wrist in Nashville — and Brandon Pirri has been called up from Rockford in replacement.
Yet even though the loss of Toews will undoubtedly be noticeable, his absence can be negated if Corey Crawford can regain his composure in net.
Crawford let in four goals on 17 shots before being pulled, and looked shaky throughout the 36 minutes of playing time he had on Saturday — his displeasure with his performance after being pulled summed it up.
For the Hawks to be successful tonight, they will need Crawford to be his normal aggressive self and challenge the Nashville shooters, where last game he allowed them to get too close to his crease before making his move.
A .764 save percentage won’t cut it — even having the best offense in the Western Conference won’t do much if one in every four shots hits twine — especially since the Hawks give up 29.2 shots per game on average, but if Crawford can stay upwards of the .902 mark — where his season statistic currently presides — Chicago should be able to tread water long enough to get healthy, and make some deals before the trade deadline in late February.
Until then, however, the spotlight is on Crawford, and with Ray Emery — who has proven he can be solid over a long stretch of games — waiting for another opportunity, the starting goaltending seat won’t just be hot, it’ll be scorching.