My dog has been blind for about a year now. It’s a pretty heartbreaking thing to deal with. She can track down a french fry like never before, but she’ll occasionally lose her bearings and wind up bumping into things or, worse, she’ll stop dead in her tracks and stare blankly into the unknown, puzzled by what’s going on around her.
Though he’s not blind, I’m sure Corey Crawford knows the feeling.
That’s because the Chicago Blackhawks left him out to dry on Monday night. The Los Angeles Kings set up camp right in front of Chicago’s crease, sliding in front of Crawford’s view of the ice, obstructing any chance he had of stopping what has become a red-hot power play attack.
The Kings are far from an offensive juggernaut, but they control the puck well and can slice you up with tic-tac-toe passing all across the ice, and thanks to a punchless effort from the Blackhawks, they were able to dominate Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals as soon as the puck dropped.
It’s a shocking development. Though Crawford’s credentials can rightfully be questioned, the backline of the Blackhawks’ defense is the most vaunted in the league, led by a bruising pair of protectors in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook that usually seal off the most vaunted real estate on the ice. But on this night, they were caught in no man’s land, neither using their physicality to clear Crawford’s sightlines or their instincts to put their bodies in front of the puck.
This much was evident on the first of Los Angeles’ three first period goals in Game 4.
With the Kings on the power play, you can see how little pressure the Blackhawks put on the puck, allowing the Kigns to pass it around to the slot, where Jake Muzzin, who has emerged as a powerplay marksman in the post-season, glides closer to the net. While Seabrook and Keith drift towards the puck, Jeff Carter slides untouched in front of Crawford, freezing Chicago’s goaltender in place as Muzzin lines up a perfectly placed wrister to the glove side.
This was a very familiar sight all night long. The Kings made the crease in front of Crawford look like the 405, with traffic jams and pile-ups galore, and the Blackhawks star defensivemen were never showed up to police it. They let a team that can struggle to score goals gain an extra advantage by distracting a goaltender who has had his own individual struggles to deal with.
Chicago’s lackluster defensive effort has put the team in an unenviable 3-1 hole. Though they recovered from this same deficit last season against the Detroit Red Wings, things are much different this time around, particularly after a game in which their normally stout and strict defense looked so hapless and uninspired.
The Blackhawks have the experience necessary to emerge from this series victorious, but unless they start making sure that their goaltender has a chance to do his job, the whole team will be sitting in place, staring into oblivion and wondering what went wrong just as Crawford was on Monday night.