There was a laundry list of things in Monday night’s loss to the Los Angeles Kings that the Chicago Blackhawks will look at with disdain moving forward, but perhaps most distressing of all was the lackluster play by goaltender Corey Crawford.
There were several plays on which Crawford looked completely outmatched. For starters, there was the goal he allowed to Kings forward Dwight King late in the second period. Drew Doughty fought through several Blackhawks defenders, but it was the complete lack of rebound control by Crawford that allowed King to poke the puck in the net with only 0.5 seconds remaining.
On the Kings’ go-ahead goal late in the third period, Crawford committed an egregious error as well. He came well out of the net to play a shot off the draw by Anze Kopitar, and then ended up sliding helplessly as he tried to defend the follow-up blast by Dustin Brown that gave the Kings the lead. Eddie Olczyk kindly described it as “Crawford losing his net,” but a more apt description would be that he got way too overzealous and got unmercifully burned.
The question, then, after such a bad performance is whether or not Crawford should be the unquestioned #1 goaltender for this team. Obviously, you don’t want to force him to wear a ballcap at the end of the bench because of one game, but over his last seven appearances, Crawford has allowed three or more goals five times. Compared to his early season dominance, where he allowed fewer than three goals in all but one of his first 13 appearances, it becomes quickly apparent that he is struggling mightily with his form right now.
Despite only facing an average of 25.2 shots during his March appearances, Crawford’s save percentage has been significantly lower than it was early in the year, dropping to 89% after starting out around the 84% range.
The problem for Joel Quenneville and the Blackhawks is that Ray Emery hasn’t been much better. He has been facing far fewer shots, with only around 16 per appearance coming his way. Even though that number is slightly skewed because of his short relief appearance in Denver, as well as his early exit against the Edmonton Oilers, he is still only saving around 87% of the shots he faces. His 11-0-0 record may dazzle those who place value in wins as a statistic (however wrong that is) but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
So no, Quenneville should not relegate Crawford to the backup role because of his recent struggles. The truth of the matter is that Emery hasn’t been any better, and there is still some concern about his lateral movement to boot. Some fans may want GM Stan Bowman to go out and grab a goalie on the market, but if history is any guide, then one of the two netminders in the Windy City will eventually grab the reins on the starting job, and the Hawks can focus on other needs.