Corey Crawford Is The X-Factor For The Chicago Blackhawks

(Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE)
(Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE)

With their sixth win of the season on Sunday night, the Chicago Blackhawks are officially off to their best start in team history.

They’ve been playing at a high level, as such a start would indicate. Their big names have shown up, and stepped up in the big moments, while they’re also getting top notch play from their blue line and on special teams, including a penalty kill that has surrendered just one goal this season.

Coming into the season, we knew the Blackhawks were going to be a playoff contender. A team that remained almost identical to last season would see the benefits of that chemistry that they built up last year in a shortened season. And we’ve seen that to this point.

But if the Blackhawks are going to continue this run and make some noise in the playoffs, it’s going to come down to the play of Corey Crawford. If the first few games are any indication, then Crawford may be well on his way to a return to that 2010-2011 form that earned him a new contract.

There’s no doubt that Crawford had a pretty poor 2011-2012 season. He struggled to piece together any sort of consistency, which was not helped by Joel Quenneville‘s inability to properly manage his goaltenders. While the physical skill was still there, it was pretty clear that Crawford lacked confidence.

That lack of confidence and consistency was magnified when Crawford surrendered a pair of game-winning goals in their playoff series against the Phoenix Coyotes, both in overtime, both to Mikkel Boedker, and both of the extremely soft variety.

Some wondered if Crawford would bounce back and whether or not the Hawks should have pursued other goaltending options (Roberto Luongo) prior to this season beginning. But through his first five starts this year, it’s clear that Crawford is back.

Corey Crawford has surrendered just nine goals in his five starts in 2013. He has a .933 save percentage and a goals-against average of just 1.78. Those are some of the best numbers in the league. While the Hawks were criticized last year for not receiving any stolen “goalie wins” from Crawford, he already has one to his credit this year, against the Detroit Red Wings that helped propel the Hawks to that 6-0-0 mark.

It may still be a bit early to announce that Corey Crawford is back to form and a top tier goaltender, despite him looking like he can play the part here in the early going. But if he can string together more performances like we’ve seen in the past week, the Hawks are set between the pipes.

The Hawks have plenty of offensive skill. Their blue line has been terrific. Their special teams have been much improved. But if they hope to contend for a second Stanley Cup title in the last few seasons, it’s going to rest on the shoulders of Corey Crawford.