CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s been nearly 10 months since Corey Crawford has faced shots in a real hockey game, and while the Blackhawks will wait one more day before making his return official, the team expects he’ll be on the ice against the Coyotes on Thursday.
Crawford hasn’t played since last December, after suffering a concussion, and only began practicing in full last month, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the Blackhawks are waiting to see how he feels Thursday morning before officially deciding if he’ll start.
“We’ll see how is in the morning, but I expect him to play tomorrow,” coach Joel Quenneville said after practice Wednesday at MB Ice Arena.
Crawford said he’s feeling like himself again after an arduous recovery from a concussion, if a bit nervous about his return to game action.
“Practices have been great. Been getting timing a little bit more, and getting up to speed, and reading shots and all that stuff. So it’ll be nice to finally get in one,” he said. “I’m sure it will be a little anxious getting into it, some nerves, but we’ll see. We’ll wait until the morning, but I’m definitely excited, I’ll tell you that.”
The final decision about whether to return to the net at the United Center will be Crawford’s.
“Overall, it’s my decision. At the end of the day, I’m the only one that really knows how I’m feeling, and I have to tell our guys what’s been going on,” he said.
Crawford’s injury doomed the Blackhawks last season. The team started 17-13-5 with him as their starting goalie, but went 16-26-5 after his last game, missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
While the Blackhawks are off to a good start, going 3-0-2 in their first five games this season, his teammates know how big of a difference he can make on the ice when he’s healthy and playing at his best.
“We felt last year was a good example of how important he was, and how well he was playing for us as well,” Quenneville said. “We’ve been spoiled here for sure.”
While game action will be a bigger challenge for Crawford than facing shots in practice, his teammates sounded confident Crawford will be a difference-maker again.
“He’s still pretty hard to score on. So, yeah, he looks good. He’s been tracking pucks well. I think he looks pretty good,” right winger Alex DeBrincat said.
Blackhawks star Patrick Kane said the team is excited to have Crawford back, and he said it’s good Crawford won’t be expected to be a team savior, given the team is in second place in their division with Cam Ward in goal over the first five games.
“I think it’s probably a good situation all around. I think Cam’s done a great job of playing in the net so far, and obviously I think Crow looks really good in practice right now. So I’m sure he’s itching to get back, too,” Kane said. “You know, we’ve had a good start here. It’s something we want to keep going, and I’m sure him coming back on home ice in front of our crowd will be a fun moment for him and for our team as well.”
Meantime, left winger Brandon Saad could be a healthy scratch on Thursday. Saad has been a major disappointment since his return to Chicago last season, when he was acquired in a trade for Artemi Panarin. He had only 18 goals and 17 assists in 82 games last season, his lowest totals since his first full season with the Blackhawks in 2013-14.
So far this year, Saad has only two assists in five games, and was dropped from the second line to the fourth line after four games this season. For the past two practices, Saad has been skating in a white sweater normally worn by injured players and healthy scratches.
Quenneville said he hasn’t decided yet if Saad will play on Thursday.