Good luck beating Corey Crawford at even strength and 3 other things we learned this week

For the third straight year, it looks like the goalie is improving

Let’s start with the numbers.

It only makes sense. Because as bonkers as Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford is playing lately, with Thursday’s 4-0 shutout over the Colorado Avalanche just the latest example, the numbers still warrant a double take.

In even-strength play, Crawford has stopped 223 of 227 shots.

Read that again if you need to. If Crawford can keep up this pace, he will finish with a 98.2 save percentage. His career-best in an 82-game season is last year’s 93.3 percent.  In 2015-16, Crawford faced an average of 24.3 even-strength shots per game. Through his nine starts this year, he’s seeing 25.2. And with a defense that’s still working out a few kinks, that number should get a bit lower.

Part of Crawford’s hot streak could be attributed to urgency. The Hawks are an average team at the moment. Naturally, superb goaltending sticks out a bit more. That doesn’t take away from how great Crawford has been. He’s keeping a solid gap between the puck on odd-man rushes and hasn’t given shooters many angles to beat him from. Only once Thursday did a defender truly need to bail Crawford out, and Brent Seabrook obliged by hugging the post to negate a scoring chance.

But it would be ignorant to call the goalie’s play abnormal. Crawford has seen his save percentage increase each of the last two years. And it’s no coincidence this run started when Jimmy Waite took over as goaltender coach for the Hawks. Here’s what Crawford said of Waite last year to Chris Kuc of Chicago Tribune:

“He knows what it's about. We've grown a good chemistry of everything (from) working on video, technically, how we should play certain situations, practice drills and knowing when it's time to work and when it's time to get a little bit of rest. And with Darling in the mix, too, we have a really good thing going here as a goalie unit."

It’s clear that Crawford is at his most comfortable now, which is good news for a team trying to correct itself on the fly. Even with Chicago’s penalty kill flaws, the goalie is likely to garner some trophy consideration. More importantly, in a loaded Central Division, where early season victories have proven vital in the past, it’s Crawford who is largely responsible for not just covering up the blemishes, but completely stealing the spotlight away from them.

SPEAKING OF SHUTOUTS: Here’s a look back at Crawford’s first of the season against Los Angeles this week, a performance that was largely overshadowed by Jonathan Toews’ first goal of the season, Marian Hossa’s 500th Goal ceremony — itself overshadowed by the “Hossa Honk” — and a penalty kill streak that started to mean something.

PANIK ATTACK: Take Satchel’s advice and don’t expect the current offensive streak of Richard Panik (six goals, four assists) and Artem Anisimov (seven goals, seven assists) to continue. Regression is coming.

FIRE EXTINGUISHERS:  Whether the first round of the 2009 playoffs, the 5-0 comeback or the 2012-13 winning streak, lately the Calgary Flames always seem to end up on the wrong side of a Blackhawks highlight. Time to add a dazzling Patrick Kane goal to that list.