BEFORE a Sunday assembly of the healthy sector of the Blackhawks roster, Corey Crawford took a few spins around the United Center ice. The team's primary goaltender is "not that far away" in his recovery from injury, in the words of his coach, but it remains fairly clear what Crawford will see when he does get back.
Not that much.
Once again this season, the team's system and style may represent the most effective goalie pads on the ice. The Hawks are on pace for a sixth straight season in the top 10 for fewest shots allowed per game, a figure that fuses an aggressive-but-responsible system with an emphasis on puck possession that makes every game a game of keep-away.
"It's because we have the puck most of the time," defenseman Johnny Oduya said. "It's tough for the other team to shoot if we have the puck. It's the old cliche, attacking is the best defense. That's kind of what it is."
As of Sunday, with a game against the offensively middling Devils on tap for Monday, the Hawks ranked fifth in the league with 27.2 shots on goal allowed per game.
They finished in the top 10 in that category in 2008-09 and haven't slipped out since. In the two seasons that produced Stanley Cups -- 2009-10 and 2012-13 -- the Hawks ranked first and fourth in shots on goal permitted per night. That their 480 blocked shots rank just 21st in the NHL this season suggests a more overall buy-in, front to back.
"That's a credit to team defense," winger Patrick Sharp said. "Not just the six defenseman that play the position, but everybody on the ice committed to coming back hard and protecting the net, forcing people to the outside."
At the end of his evaluation, Sharp pointed out that the puck-possession emphasis may skew the figure a bit. Nearby, Kris Versteeg understood the implications of hogging the puck all too well, having enjoyed it as a member of the Hawks and having endured the frustration of chasing the Hawks around as a member of the opposition.
"This team has a lot of skill guys," said Versteeg, who rejoined the Hawks after an early November trade.
"I know playing against them, they had the puck most of the game. When I was in Florida, we'd play against the Blackhawks, we knew they were a team that could hold on to the puck and make plays. Now seeing that, it doesn't really shock you, those stats."
Cutting down on shots, in the long run, bodes well. From game to game, top-notch scoring chances concern the Hawks more than sheer volume of shots.
Ranking 14th in the league with 2.66 goals allowed per game, the Hawks emphasize eliminating the best opportunities, if not eliminating every opportunity.
"Even if you don't have too many shots against you but you give up two, three breakaways or two-on-ones or things like that, it's going to be tough," Oduya said.
-- Chicago Tribune