After missing 10 games, Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford will return to the net to begin the new year. Crawford will be backed up by Antti Raanta, and the team will travel with now third-string goalie Jason LaBarbera as a precautionary measure while the team plays two games in two nights along the east coast.
However, Crawford should not be rusty, or at least he will be able to hide it well. Not only has Crawford been practicing since before the holiday break, but he is facing a New York Islanders offense which ranks 21st in the NHL averaging 2.51 goals per game.
Crawford, for his part, has always been a situational goaltender that finds ways to keep his team in games. The Blackhawks look to make everything a high-scoring affair and if they can push the tempo, they are likely to draw multiple penalties. The Islanders not only average 11.8 penalty minutes per game, but have the league’s worst penalty kill at 73.8 percent.
For their part, the Islanders are on a two-game winning streak and have scored three or more goals in five of their last six games. However, the team also allows 3.29 goals per game, almost the worst in the league, and does not have the depth to stop the Blackhawks’ puck-possession offense.
Even worse for the Islanders has been their inability to keep a lead. The Islanders have a win percentage when scoring first of .444, which is atrocious. Chicago, meanwhile, wins 81.5 percent of the time when they score first. When leading after two periods, the Blackhawks find victory 87.5 percent of the time. However, the Islanders are the only team in the NHL to not win half of their games after attaining a second intermission lead. Their win percentage when leading after two is an atrocious 44.4 percent.
While Crawford has to be excited to get back in the net, he should be able to fight off any rust thanks to a favorable matchup. Going forward, the Blackhawks will travel to New Jersey and play two games in two days. It is unclear from there if the team will stick with Crawford or give Raanta another start.
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