RECORDS: Coyotes 1-4-0 Hawks 3-0-2
PUCK DROP: 7:30pm
TV: NBCSN Chicago
YOUNG GIRL THEY CALL THEM THE DESERT DOGS: Five For Howling
Well, tonight got a touch more interesting, didn’t it?
No point in waiting around. Tonight marks the return of one Corey Crawford to the Hawks crease, and he’s bringing all sorts of actual hope and expectation with him. While the start for the Hawks has been tremendous fun, it hasn’t carried any feeling of a sea change or entrenched positive vibes/hope. It’s just been kind of empty entertainment. But the return of Crawford makes all of that a real possibility. Don’t fool yourself, he is that good and he is that important.
That’s if he’s full-strength, and the worry or skepticism of that is basically in a blinking-sign-over-the-Kennedy stage. At camp it was suggested he might need a game or two in Winnebago County to knock off some ring rust. That has been scrapped, either by how good he’s looked in practice or by need or by both. We still don’t know that a stiff breeze or any kind of contact isn’t going to put him back on the shelf, and if he goes back on the shelf there’s a real worry that it might be for good. And of course, it’s been 10 months since he’s played, so even if he’s sharp and even if he’s completely clear of his brain injury problems, there has to be some feel to be gained back. He’s not going to be Crow just yet, unless it’s by some miracle or he’s Wolverine.
There’s also the question of how Crow is being handled. There’s been an odd and uncomfortable back and forth between he and the team for months now. I want to say that since camp opened they’ve let Crow call the shots here, but just yesterday you had Quenneville saying, “We’ll see how he feels in the morning but we expect him to play.” Is that because Crow expects that or because they do and he’s going along with it? With the Hawks it’s hard to know. You don’t want to feel like the team is pushing him back at a slightly faster pace than he would like, but you can’t say for sure they aren’t either.
On the other side, and this has only ever been a theory of mine, but with this type of injury and recovery I wonder if you don’t know if you’re 100% until you get out there. Like, he’s been dealing with stuff for so long that marked improvement could be mistaken for total improvement, just because it’s better than where you’ve been. Again, Crow and the Hawks might not know until he gets out there and tries. That’s what happened with Jonathan Toews many years ago when he was dealing with this. He came back for the playoffs, he thought he was fine, and then admitted later he didn’t really feel all the way back until the summer. We’ll all find out together.
It may seem like a soft-landing for Crow to debut against the Coyotes, but looks can be deceiving. Yes, the Yotes only have one win. Yes, they haven’t scored an even-strength goal yet. But it’s not the process’s fault. Arizona has simply crushed the opponent in every game, possession-wise. In every game they’ve carried at least a 54% Corsi-percentage. Their expected-goal percentage over five games is 52.3%. But like a night with far too much whiskey, they can’t finish. Like, at all. They have three goals in five games, two on the power play and one short-handed.
At some point though, all that possession and chance-generation is going to count. This isn’t a team completely bereft of scoring touch, though the injury absences of Alex Galchenyuk (The American With The Russian Name Who Used To Be a Canadien) and Christian Dvorak aren’t helping. Clayton Keller and Dylan Strome are where you’d look first. Derek Stepan is starting to get up there and was never what he was billed as but he’s far from helpless. Michael Grabner has gotten very rich off scoring 25 goals that no one can remember. It’s hardly a murderer’s row, but again, they’re doing most things right.
And they should get goaltending. Antti Raanta has had a slowish start to the season, but has been marvelous the past two seasons when healthy. There were even some stumping him as a dark-horse, boxcars-paying Vezina candidate. Might want to pump the brakes on that, but he will improve from his current. .903 SV%.
The defense has been good too, as the Yotes have only surrendered 11 goals in five games. Jakob Chychrun is out injured, but Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Jason Demers, our lost son Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Kevin Connauton make for a competent at worst unit.
As for the Hawks, aside from the Crawford apparition the lineup stays the same. They only threatened Brandon Saad with a scratch, but he stays in. If he is a ghost tonight, then he might be staring at the pressbox for one or both of the games this weekend. So don’t do that. Everything else is as is.
Perhaps this is the beginning of something real. Perhaps it’s just a false dawn. But it’s definitely more lively than a normal tilt against Arizona in October would have been.
Game #6 Preview Suite