Blackhawks’ defensemen, goaltenders adjusting to Corey Crawford’s absence
Beyond missing Crawford’s elite goaltending, the Hawks have had to nail down smaller details, such as coordinating breakout passes from their new goalies to their defensemen.
Corey Crawford’s absence hurts the Blackhawks most in terms of his goaltending. That much is obvious.
But the repercussions extend beyond the crease.
Crawford, for example, is one of the more active goalies in the league in terms of playing the puck behind and next to the net.
Without him, the Hawks have devoted practice time to testing their three possible replacement goalies’ skills at moving the puck, then getting those goalies and their defensemen on the same page.
‘‘One of the things ‘Crow’ brings is his play with the puck and how good he is with that, but these guys are pretty solid with it, too,’’ defenseman Olli Maatta said Sunday. ‘‘That helps out us D-men breaking out.
‘‘The biggest thing is just communicating on and off the ice, talking all the time about what your preference is, how you want to play situations. So it’s just going to come with time.’’
In one drill Friday, in which the goalies were asked to stop an around-the-boards dump-in and pass the puck to a circling-back defenseman while under light forechecking pressure, Malcolm Subban’s vision and accuracy were impressive.
But Collin Delia, whose impressive second half in the American Hockey League and decent NHL success last season made him Subban’s top challenger entering camp, struggled.
Coach Jeremy Colliton called that seemingly small detail a ‘‘point of emphasis.’’
‘‘We touched on that; we’ll revisit it again,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘Breaking the puck out clean, it sure helps if your goalie can get a stop and set it or make a play. A lot of it is just reps, communication and getting used to being predictable to each other.’’
Delia played fairly well in the scrimmage Sunday, but Subban and Kevin Lankinen faltered.
Despite previously insisting the Hawks haven’t ruled out Crawford returning at some point, Colliton said he hopes the scrimmages this week will ‘‘help us to make a decision’’ on the starting goalie in Crawford’s place.
With only a few players speaking with the media each day, it has been difficult to follow each goalie’s opinion on the battle. Subban hasn’t talked since Wednesday and Lankinen hasn’t talked at all, but Delia was one of the players made available for an interview Saturday.
‘‘It’s obviously a really friendly competition,’’ Delia said. ‘‘It’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity. As we look back, we’re not going to see any type of life event of this magnitude affect a lot of major sports. We’re just happy to be a part of it.’’
Koekkoek wants to re-sign
Pending restricted free agent Drake Caggiula said Saturday that he would like to spend the rest of his career with the Hawks, and fellow pending RFA Slater Koekkoek echoed that sentiment.
‘‘I’d love to re-sign here,’’ Koekkoek said. ‘‘I love the city, love my teammates and the organization. I think if I can have a good playoff, who knows? Winning always helps, so that’s what I’m focused on. Everything else will take care of itself.’’
Koekkoek said he wasn’t sure whether his agent, Ritch Winter, has had contract discussions with Hawks general manager Stan Bowman.
Although the Hawks can retain Koekkoek’s rights with a simple qualifying offer, whether they’ll do that is hard to predict.
The 26-year-old defenseman often was a healthy scratch this season, but he developed a strong rapport with Maatta on the third pairing later on. The emergence of Lucas Carlsson, the recovery of Brent Seabrook and the arrival of Ian Mitchell all threaten his job moving forward.