The Chicago Blackhawks lost for the first time to an NHL Central Division opponent on Thursday night, falling to the St. Louis Blues 4-3 in a shootout at the United Center.
Perhaps more than any other narrative that has emerged from the game is the question over how much blame goaltender Corey Crawford has received. Fans have been very hot and cold on Crawford since he burst onto the scene in 2011, wresting the starting job away from veteran Marty Turco, but the noise was amplified the most in the 2012 playoffs when he let in a few soft goals against the Phoenix Coyotes.
With that track record in mind, fans now are beginning to clamor for Crawford’s head. The old saying in Chicago sports is that the most popular athlete in town is the Bears’ back-up quarterback, but that adage seems to have found new life with the Hawks. A number of Hawk loyalists are pushing for Ray Emery to get the starting job over Crawford, and with his questionable performances as of late, their arguments are starting to gain a bit of validity.
So should head coach Joel Quenneville bench Crawford and replace him with the veteran Emery? The answer to this question is yes, but with a caveat.
The notion that Crawford has played particularly poorly is fairly misguided. Yes, he has had a good deal of problems controlling his rebounds in recent games, with his performances against the Los Angeles Kings in late March and last night during the third period against the Blues standing out. The reality of the situation is that there were several defensive breakdowns that helped lead to those opportunities, so putting the blame solely on Crawford for goals scored is a simple solution to a complex issue.
That being said, Emery should still get the start on Saturday against Nashville. His 12-1-0 record notwithstanding, he has been the steadier of the two Hawks goaltenders, handling his ever-changing role with the aplomb that one would assume a veteran would display. This, along with Crawford’s shaky play, should be all the incentive the team needs to at least give Emery the chance to seize the starting job.
Quenneville has been afforded a rare opportunity for an NHL head coach. His team has a nice lead in both their divisional race and the Western Conference race, so he can afford to tinker and to see which of his two goaltenders he should trust moving forward as the playoffs approach. He needs to take advantage of this, and not be scared of wrecking the confidence of a young goalie or of ginning up some type of controversy among the fanbase.
There’s no time like the present for him to apply this thinking.