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31 in 31

Three questions facing Chicago Blackhawks

Health of Crawford, improvement on defense issues to watch

by Tracey Myers @Tramyers_NHL / Staff Writer is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three important questions facing the Chicago Blackhawks.


[Blackhawks 31 IN 31: Season preview | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the numbers]


1. Will Corey Crawford stay healthy?

Crawford was 14-18-5 with a 2.93 goals-against average and .908 save percentage last season, but the health of the 34-year-old goalie is a concern. He missed 80 games over the past two seasons because of concussions (47 games in 2017-18; 33 games in 2018-19).

This season, Chicago insured itself with the addition of Robin Lehner, a 28-year-old goalie who signed a one-year contract July 1 after he was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season with the New York Islanders, going 23-13-5, with a 2.13 GAA, .930 save percentage and six shutouts. Cam Ward, Chicago's backup last season (16-12-4, 3.67 GAA, .897 save percentage), was not re-signed.

If Crawford and Lehner remain healthy, Chicago could have one of the best goalie tandems in the NHL.

Video: 31 in 31: Chicago Blackhawks 2019-20 season preview


2. Will the defense improve?

The Blackhawks allowed 291 goals last season, second most in the NHL behind the Ottawa Senators (301), and their penalty kill ranked last (72.7 percent). Each was a major reason Chicago failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second straight season.

But things should be better for the Blackhawks after adding defensemen Olli Maatta, who turns 25 on Aug. 22, and Calvin de Haan, 28, in trades. Each is an upgrade, with Maatta, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins, giving the Blackhawks a good puck-mover and de Haan a defensive-minded presence who is strong on the penalty kill.

Stable goaltending, with a healthy Crawford and the addition of Lehner, will help defensively, as will the acquisitions of two-way forwards Zack Smith, Andrew Shaw and Ryan Carpenter.


3. Can Dylan Strome build off last season?

Strome made the most of a fresh start after the Blackhawks acquired him along with forward Brendan Perlini in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes for forward Nick Schmaltz on Nov. 25. After scoring 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 48 games over parts of three seasons with the Coyotes, the 22-year-old forward had 51 points (17 goals, 34 assists) in 58 games with the Blackhawks last season.

Strome has matured and hit his stride offensively and could better his production this season. He was the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft by Arizona and had 240 points (82 goals, 158 assists) in 124 games his final full two seasons with Erie of the Ontario Hockey League, so the scoring pedigree is there.

Strome, along with Blackhawks forward Alex DeBrincat, have been friends since playing together for Erie. Their chemistry was evident last season and should continue to aid Strome's production.

Video: DAL@CHI: Strome outwaits Khudobin for 20th goal

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