The Blackhawks all know how vital goalie Corey Crawford is to the team. Every player in the locker room will say they miss him.
But they’ll also all say his health is the top priority.
“Of course we miss him, but he has to recover before he can come back,” defenseman Erik Gustafsson said.
Although Crawford has made strides over the last few weeks in his recovery from a concussion suffered last December, it’s still uncertain when and at what capacity he’ll return to help in the net this season. Coach Joel Quenneville said earlier this week that Crawford could potentially start the Hawks’ home game against the Coyotes on Oct. 18. But even so, Crawford might not be a consistent starter while he deals with post-concussion symptoms.
With Crawford out, goalie Cam Ward, whom the Hawks signed to a one-year deal this summer, will start in net for the season opener Thursday in Ottawa. It’s an honor he’s not taking lightly.
“A lot of fans are contingent on Crow and how he’s feeling, and he’s clearly the No. 1 guy here and a big part of this organization,” Ward said. “So for the time being with him being out, obviously I knew there was a good chance of me starting opening night, and I think it’s a great opportunity and one that I’m extremely excited for.”
Ward isn’t the only player stepping up in Crawford’s absence. Last season, the Hawks’ defense fell apart after Crawford was put on injured reserve. Gustafsson said it’ll take a group effort to try to fill the void.
“It’s not just one guy — it’s a team thing,” he said. “Corey’s a big, big part of this team, and you see how much we need him.”
Patrick Kane won’t deny it: He has seen season predictions that don’t have the Hawks making the playoffs.
“We all know in here [that] no one’s picking us to do well or be a playoff team or win the division,” Kane said. “So a little bit of chip on our shoulders.”
But Kane said it’s important that the Hawks block that out.
“We’re worrying about what’s happening inside this locker room, the internal make of this team — so focusing on what we can control,” he said. “We can’t control what people say or what they think or who they’re going to pick. But we can go on the ice and play.”
• Blackhawks embrace underdog mentality
Waited all his life
Defenseman Henri Jokiharju said he’s not nervous for his NHL debut Thursday.
But Quenneville is.
“I’ll have the butterflies for him,” Quenneville said. “That scenario — he’s a young kid and he has a lot of confidence.”
The 19-year-old from Finland said he doesn’t want to make the moment “bigger than what it is.” But he’s still more than excited for a dream to come true.
“It’s going to be fun,” Jokiharju said. “I’ve waited, like, all my childhood to play in the NHL. It’s going to be huge. It’s one game for me, but obviously, this is the best time of my life. So I’m just going to enjoy it.”