The Chicago Blackhawks can point to a lot of reasons for a disappointing 3-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets Sunday night. Pointing to the play of Corey Crawford is not the place to start.
Failing to build on an early lead provided by the fourth line and costly turnovers had a hand in the 'Hawks' demise which will be their last game at the United Center in nearly six weeks. Tossing the blame in the Chicago net instead of where it should go just doesn't cut it.
Chicago led the game after two periods 1-0 on the strength of Brandon Bollig's sixth goal of the 2013-14 campaign. The fourth line struck on Chicago's second shift of the game when Bollig's wraparound attempt glanced off of Al Montoya's stick and right pad to sneak over the goal line.
That goal was the only one the 'Hawks would muster despite bombarding Montoya with 35 shots in the course of the action. The Winnipeg goalie was able to keep his team's chances alive until the Jets torched Chicago for three third-period goals.
The Blackhawks had been 23-0-3 after taking a lead into the final 20 minutes. Chicago has now dropped three straight games and heads out on a road trip with the sting of one that got away.
Through 40 minutes, the Jets managed just six shots on goal. Even with Crawford seeing 15 third-period shots, the workload was light for the Chicago net-minder. With so little to do, it's easy to heap blame on Crawford for the Blackhawks' inability to put Winnipeg away. It just isn't accurate to do so.
I am not going to try and sell you on the theory that goalies need to stay busy throughout a game to be at their most effective. That's also an easy out and doesn't apply, seeing as how Crawford saw plenty of rubber in the final period.
Crawford gave up a few rebounds as the Jets finally began to generate some offense. However, the puck that bounced out to Blake Wheeler at the right circle 8:16 into the third didn't seem to be one of those.
The initial shot by Mark Stuart at the point was redirected by Evander Kane who was at the left post. It also may or may not have made contact with Johnny Oduya before heading to open ice and Wheeler's stick. This isn't to blame Oduya by any stretch, but Crawford had a lot of ground to cover to even be in position to try and glove Wheeler's attempt.
Four-and-a-half minutes later, Winnipeg took the lead when former 'Hawks forward Andrew Ladd seemed to get a gift from Crawford from 35 feet out. Again, let's direct blame to where it belongs.
Marian Hossa isn't a player who should draw a lot of criticism. However, when he makes a mistake that leads to the game-winner, it has to be noted.
Hossa was obviously trying to get the play started toward the other end when he threw a pass out from the boards in the Jets zone. If the pass had connected with the stick of Patrick Sharp, perhaps Chicago is on the move toward the Winnipeg goal. Instead, the puck found Ladd's tape alone in the slot.
It appeared that Crawford had a great view of the shot coming off of Ladd's stick. The redirect provided by the leg of Duncan Keith was enough to raise the trajectory of the shot. The puck fluttered over Crawford's glove and into the net.
Sure, it was incredibly frustrating to watch a puck sail in from that distance and cook the 'Hawks' goose. The longer Chicago went in this game without a second goal, the more the sense of foreboding entered into the mind.
Ladd's shot realized the fear many of us had on a night where the Blackhawks outshot their opponents 27-6 in the first two periods. I'm sure the initial reaction was to pronounce the goal a softie on Crawford's part, but he sure didn't set Ladd up for the shot or change the shot's direction.
Seeing as how the Blackhawks had pulled Crawford with about 90 seconds to play, it's safe to say that most fans don't blame him for Wheeler's empty-netter that put an exclamation point on the Winnipeg comeback.
This is a tough loss to stomach since, in many ways, it appeared that Chicago was going to come out with two points going into what should be a pretty big road test before the Olympic break. There are several issues that coach Joel Quenneville has to wrestle with as the 'Hawks try to straighten things out this week.
I'm not saying that Crawford's play has been perfect this season, and I'm not placing him above scrutiny. However, hanging Sunday's loss on him is misplacing frustration that should be aimed elsewhere.
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