Corey Crawford: Sophomore Slump, or Larger Team Issue?

 

At the end of the 2010-11 season, Chicago Blackhawks rookie goaltender Corey Crawford came in fourth in the Calder trophy voting. He also had a solid 33-18-6 record with 4 shutouts and a 2.30 GAA/.917 sv%.  That record put him on par for wins with Pekka Rinne (33-22-9); with a save % ahead of goalies with bigger names, like Ryan Miller (.916), Dwayne Roloson (.914), and Jimmy Howard (.908); and a better GAA than such veterans as Ilya Bryzgalov (2.48), Miikka Kiprusoff (2.63), and Martin Brodeur (2.45).

Crawford only allowed 5+ goals in a single game, and that was early in the season – November 30th, against the Blues – and the Hawks outscored St. Louis 7-5 for the win.

Corey Crawford in goal 11/25/11 at LA Kings

Crawford was the unsung MVP of the Blackhawks’ spring; he stood tall between the pipes and gave Chicago enough time to get their legs in the game, night after night. Nowhere was that more true than in the playoff series against Vancouver, where his stellar play earned him more press time than the goalie-go-round in the Canucks’ net. He had a 2.21 GAA and .927 sv% in the 7-game series, and there’s no doubt that he flat-out stole the Hawks a win in Game 6, holding the Blackhawks in the game for 15:30 of OT until Ben Smith scored the winning goal, and pushed Chicago to a winner-take all Game 7.

After solidly beginning the season on the same form as he left last season, Crawford has hit a rough patch of late. In his first 10 games of the season (out of 23 GPI), Crawford went 6-2-2 including a 2-1 record in shootouts, with a .919 sv% and 2.33 GAA, including shutting out the Canucks in Vancouver.

In his last 10 appearances, however, Crawford has gone 5-3-0, gotten pulled twice, and went in as relief for backup Ray Emery once. During that time, he’s had a 3.74 GAA and .879 sv%, and having five or more goals scored on him twice. He’s already outpaced last year in that department, allowing five or more goals three times. His overall record thus far this season is 12-7-2 with a 3.00 GAA and .896 sv%, so, despite being sixth overall in the league for wins, Crawford’s play has not been nearly so stellar.

Emery hasn’t fared much better, with a road win Thursday against the Islanders taking him up to .898 sv% and a 2.80 GAA with a 5-1-2 record. Emery, too, is not in the same form he was last season, when he helped the Ducks finish out the season, going 7-2-0 w/.926 sv% and 2.28 GAA in the end stretch.

Emery has often looked awkward in goal in his time with Chicago. His range of movements can be jerky and at times, he’s can be slow to recover from saves. Emery has also had two games where he has given up five or more goals, and been pulled once, and that’s in only 9 games he’s played in.

While some openly wonder about yet another “goalie controversy” brewing in Chicago, as has happened in the past three seasons, it’s simply too early for that to be reality. In addition, Crawford just signed a three-year contract extension with the Hawks after patiently waiting his turn for years in the Blackhawks system. There’s understandable concern of the potential for Crawford to become “Steve Mason v.2″ (Mason won the Calder, only to follow that up with a hideous sophomore season).

courtesy of flickr BrdgetDS

Admittedly, there certainly have been some soft goals that Crawford has allowed, and there’s been games where he’s looked like he was fighting the puck too much, but some hits to your confidence after bad games will do that to a goalie. Despite that, there have also been plenty of games where the five men on the ice in front of him have demonstrated the same type of inconsistency that plagued the Blackhawks last season, so to lay all the blame upon either goalie is erroneous.

On a certain level, other teams now know far more about Crawford’s style of play than they did last year, when he was still relatively unknown. Also, after last season, are the Blackhawks players also guilty of expecting Crawford to carry them more when he’s in the net?

While every team should feel their goalies – starter or backup – are capable of carrying them, they shouldn’t rely on the goalie stealing every game. A team needs to be consistent and play 60 solid minutes, no matter who is in net. One only needs to look across the league to the Panthers and Wild, both of whom have won games in front of 3 different goalies. If circumstances found either Alexander Salak or Alec Richards (Blackhawks prospects currently playing for the Rockford IceHogs) in net, how would this team play in front of them?

Many have noted that the team seems to tighten up its defense and play better in front of Ray Emery – most of the time, but not always. It was noticeable the other night when Emery came in to replace Crawford in the December 5th game vs. Phoenix, just 21:09 into the game. The Blackhawks then rallied back with a three goal second period, and pushed the Coyotes to a shootout. Is it because the team is responding to a switch in goalies and realizing they need to fix something in their play? Or is it something else?

Emery looked confident in net tonight against the Islanders, but while his game was overall very strong, it was not perfect. He got caught out of position his fair share, which has cost him against fast teams or teams that willingly crash the net and create a lot of traffic. (When a save looks “spectacular”, it’s often because the goalie was out of position.) For example, against the speedy and talented Oilers, Emery played 47:32 and gave up seven goals before being yanked in favor of Crawford (who gave up two as well). After that debacle, Emery stated, “”It’s personally embarrassing. I want to play better than that. We have to remember how bad this feels because we don’t want it to happen again.”

In other words, both goalies in Chicago have had their share of struggles this season. Both goalies are highly competitive battlers with excellent work ethics, which will allow them to work through these early season issues, and be the strong men in net that Chicago needs them to be.

In the meantime, the team as a whole needs to continue to be consistent in their defensive play and increase the support they are giving to whichever goalie is in net. If the defense can be more reliable, then both goalies will feel confident behind them.

Cheryl Adams
Cheryl grew up as a Hartford Whalers fan, and came to the Blackhawks fandom in 1997. Cheryl also created the Hockey Broad website (www.hockeybroad.com), which is aimed at showcasing female fans' serious dedication to hockey.

3 Comments

  1. I will fully admit upfront that I don’t pay attention to stats. I watch the game & figure out who I like as I do it. Ray is a great goaltender & I like him…as a back up. Corey is amazing & I don’t think people should be throwing him to the wolves just because he’s going through a rough patch, it happens to everybody. You don’t see the Canucks fans denouncing Luongo every October just because the man can’t seem to pull his game together until November! Crawford started strong, he is hitting some potholes, but he’ll get over it. And let’s be honest, Emery is not doing THAT much better right now, I mean allowing 7 goals in one game? And against the Oilers of all teams? That, as he said himself, was truly embarrassing. All of that said, the 5 guys on the ice with WHOEVER is in goal, need to tighten up their game & play some D! Goalies can not do it on their own! Playing well or horrible, I love my Blackhawks & I love Corey Crawford & no matter what concerns or stats are put in front of me, I will stand behind them 1000%!!!! GO BLACKHAWKS!!!!

  2. This may be the worst article I havew ever read, emery is starting to show his true goaltending form and is bailing out the team because Crawfoed is letting in so many goals. If you look at Ray emerys past he has outplayed his counterpart goaltender every year, starting with Flick, Hasek, Gerber, Ellis, each time ray was in the backup position and he beat out the starter with his play, Crawford will just be anouther on the list, so I would wait for a couple games and watch his numbers rise, as well as his starts in net.

    • Going to have to outline Emery’s history on this one.

      2005-06 (OTT), Emery became starter over Hašek due to Hašek injuring his groin in the Olympics. This was a solid rookie season for him; stats for season: .902/2.82 GAA

      2006-07 (OTT), Emery did usurp Gerber midway into season, but he also got a 3-game suspension (temper, temper) followed by a goalie fight after returning from suspension. Despite various issues, he did take his team deep in the playoffs this season. Stats for season: .918/2.47 GAA

      2007-08 (OTT), Emery was injured in preseason & didn’t play well once he was back in rotation; Gerber was returned to starter position. Emery also had several other issues w/ his team, which caused him to end up being waived & his remaining contract bought out. Stats for season: .890/3.13

      He then went to the KHL for a year (2008-09). Due to KHL rules, he split the season with Kolesnik. (only GAA stat avail 2.12; played 36 games)

      2009-10 (PHL), he played only 2 months before his season ended due to avascular necrosis treatment. Stats for season: .905/2.64 GAA

      2010-11 season, he signed a late-season contract w/ the Ducks after Hiller was put on the IR, & Ellis was already struggling in net. He got the late-season starts running up to the playoffs. This was his best season stat-wise to date, but his 10 games in regular season (7-2-0, .926/2.28 GAA) were balanced out by rough playoff performance (6 GP, 2-3-0, .897/3.20 GAA)

      Don’t know who the “Flick” you refer to is. There’s Rob Flick, who’s a skater in the Blackhawks system, and Jason Flick, who appears to have no stats on NHL.com.

      Ray Emery was a good value signing with playoff experience. But you also must remember that Emery at this point has so few games played that it will take very few good games (win OR lose, so long as GAA is low) to make his stats look better in comparison to Crawford. (example: one game last night took his stats from .890 sv%/2.90 GAA, to .898% and 2.80 GAA) When he’s focused & keeps his temper in check, he can play very, very well. But his play hasn’t been perfect this season, either, as I outlined above.

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