Corey Crawford returns in top form, blanks Blue Jackets - FOX 35 News Orlando

Crawford returns in top form, blanks Blue Jackets

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

As the Chicago Blackhawks seemingly can't lose and the season speeds by let's go back to last spring. Analysts around the NHL as well as many Hawk fans thought Corey Crawford was a weak link. The popular thinking was GM Stan Bowman needed to upgrade his starting goaltender position, and Ray Emery was no more than an adequate backup.

So far popular opinion couldn't have been more off base.

On Sunday night, Crawford came back from an 11-day hiatus, due to an apparent concussion, and was sharp as a tack. It was a good thing Crawford was so good or the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets would have ended the Chicago point streak. When the final horn sounded the Hawks skated away with a hard fought 1-0 victory, and extended their point streak record to 18 games.

Steve Mason, the Blue Jackets starting goaltender perfectly described the Blackhawks season. His post game comments are taken from ChicagoBlackhawks.com.

"They're a great team. Right from their goaltending, both of them, defense, forwards, all the way through. They have guys that are superstars in this league and they are playing like it right now. For any team that comes in here, especially in this arena, it's a tough place to play and they're making it even harder," Mason said.

The Blue Jackets can't score as they have recorded just 40 goals on the season which is only five more than the Blackhawks have allowed.

When a team can't finish, the reasons are usually the same. The Jackets had prime scoring chances but either missed an open net altogether or hit iron. When connecting cleanly Crawford stood tall and made some great stops. A combination of bad luck, a lack of talent and facing a hot goalie led to the Columbus loss.

Most likely Blue Jacket fans have seen that same picture over and over again the last few years. On Sunday the Jackets were 0-5 on the power play. The Hawks penalty killers were obviously very good once again but the Blue Jackets have themselves to blame. It's difficult to win any game, especially on the road if unsuccessful in scoring with over 10 minutes of power play time.

The only goal of the night was scored by third line center Andrew Shaw.

Shaw had the goal but it came from a great assist by Bryan Bickell. Both players have been a pleasant surprise this season. In almost every game, whether scoring or not, they have played effective hockey. Shaw, Bickell and Viktor Stalberg have kept the game simple and have done great work along the boards. The trio creates chances from hard work and also has been good defensively.

To win a Stanley Cup, the third and fourth lines are extremely important. It is early to talk about the grand prize, but the Hawks wouldn't be where they are at if it wasn't for the strong play of their third and fourth lines.

The Blackhawks are in a fortunate position from a salary cap standpoint with Shaw and Bickell as they make near the NHL minimum. Shaw has one more year remaining on a contract that pays him $565,000 per season. Bickell is a $541,667 salary cap hit and will be up for a raise next season. The way he is playing, Bowman may want to extend Bickell's contract and should be able to do so without breaking the bank.

Stalberg is also up for a new contract and his future as a Blackhawk is more questionable. The speedy Stalberg is an upcoming unrestrictive free agent and could attract the interest of quite a few suitors. If Stalberg departs for a big payday, the Hawks could still have an effective third line.

2011 first round draft pick Phillip Danault is learning his lessons while playing junior hockey with Moncton. Danault is highly touted and could be ready for a full time role as a third line center in Chicago in September. If so, Shaw could move over and replace Stalberg on the wing and Danault could take over at center.

For the record my thinking on Crawford's future as a quality NHL starting goaltender was lofty compared to most. That said, I would have given lottery-like odds Emery would win his first seven starts this season. Both players have been amazing and have silenced critics.

Joel Quenneville could come right back with Crawford Monday night versus Edmonton, or he could go with Emery. My guess is he will stick with Crawford who is coming off his second shutout of the year.

The Oilers are another struggling club but they have some young talent. Monday night will be the first of a nine game, 17-day road trip for Edmonton.

This is the fifth contest for the Hawks in nine days and is also the last of a long homestand. Many times the last game of a homestand is like the first game of a road trip. Once again staying focused and shrugging off fatigue will be important.

Seldom in the NHL do teams play on Sunday and then Monday, but so far the Blackhawks have been up to every challenge.

Al's Shots

Dave Bolland didn't dress versus the Jackets and was listed out with an upper body injury.

Bolland was replaced on the second line by Marcus Kruger who had another fine outing. Kruger, who is also one of the best penalty killers in the league, was smooth with the puck and showed good vision as the second line center.

Former Hawk James Wisniewski is a hard-nosed defenseman who gets carried away at times. After getting cross-checked in the back Wisniewski responded to Shaw by spearing him in a very sensitive area. Wisniewski was not penalized but most likely will receive a fine or suspension for his retaliation.

On Friday night the Sharks Ryane Clowe jumped off the bench in the final moments of the third period. He wanted to go after Shaw who made a questionable hit on Joe Pavelski.

Shaw survived a review and no action was taken. Clowe won't be as lucky as he has been suspended pending an in-person hearing Monday. Clowe may be headed for a 10 game suspension which is mandatory when a player leaves the bench to get into an altercation.

Niklas Hjalmarsson is playing his best hockey as a Blackhawk. On Sunday night, Hammer was very good and was credited with six blocked shots, which was a game high.

I will be back Tuesday and you can follow me on Twitter @AlCimaglia.

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