Corey Crawford's struggles have people in Chicago whispering.
They're not talking, or moaning or discussing. Just whispering. Here's why: Crawford was so good last season, some may think his recent struggles are a minor blip.
Perhaps suggesting goaltending problems for the fourth straight seasons is not something anyone wants to deal with again. Or it could be that if there's something really wrong with Crow, it's a very serious problem that doesn't really have a solution. It's easier to say everyone needs to play better defense, or a d-man acquired, because saying the Hawks need a new goalie is far more costly and far more scary.
But it's more than a minor blip now, it's gone on for a month. There's no question that the defense in front of Crawford is not helping the cause, but it's going the other way far more than is being talked about and his struggles are partly helping to cause the defensive breakdowns we're seeing. The Hawks are collapsing too deep toward their net, which speaks to a team afraid to let a shot through or anticipating rebounds that really shouldn't be there. We saw it last year with Marty Turco, and they are habits that took forever to break out of.
I've never played goalie, but it's far too easy to say, "Well he's just not playing well." It's better to see what's changed about Crow's game, and what he is or isn't doing. A lot has been made of Crawford's new aggressive tendencies. Crow came out this season and is getting more out of the blue paint of his crease on shooters. He's trying to cut down angles, provide less to shoot at. But this is leading to a couple problems. One, he's having trouble moving side-to-side. Notice when a player wraps behind the net just how long it takes Crawford to cover the now-more ground to get to that post. Second, the angle he's coming out at is off, because he's not used to adjusting for being that far out. He's leaving sides of the net far too open, which trained shooters are going to exploit. Third, his rebound control. This was exhibited in Anaheim. Because shots are getting on him quicker than he's used to, he can't corral them. This leaves pucks lying in the crease, which he now has to scramble back to from farther away. That's why he's giving up so many goals off chaos in front of his net. Last year, when he was there to begin with, he could cover them. Now he can't.
Another problem Crow is having is dropping his glove hand on a shot. He starts with it around his ear, but right as a shot is being released, he drops it to around his hip. If the shot is coming where he had his glove, he has to bring it right back up quickly. This frantic motion is why you see so many shots going in and then out of his glove, and they need to stick there. It's hard to keep it in there if his arm is swinging so wildly up to recover from being dropped in the first place.
Whether Crow goes back to his old style or learns this new on is not for me to decide. The problems are fixable, and if they do get fixed you'll see how his improvement and the Hawks defensive improvement go hand in hand.
Sam Fels is the proprietor of The Committed Indian, an unofficial program for the Blackhawks. You may have seen him hocking the magazine outside the United Center at Gate 3. The program is also available for purchase online. Fels is a lifelong 'Hawks fan and he also writes for Second City Hockey .