Chicago Blackhawks: Corey Crawford Can Still Be Their Goaltender of the Future

Dan Robaczewski@DanRobaczewskiContributor IIISeptember 10, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 17: Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks watches the replay board during a break in the action against the Detroit Red Wings at the United Center on December 17, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois.  The Blackhawks defeated the Red Wings 4-1. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

I sat down yesterday in the lull of my hockey-less summer and watched an archived game from last October between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Carolina Hurricanes with my NHL Vault subscription.

It was not a very good game for the Blackhawks. They often looked out of sorts, made irresponsible decisions and found themselves lost defensively for large portions of the game. However, there was one player who decided to ride against the grain of his teammates’ hapless efforts and play big.

Despite the Blackhawks’ eventual 3-0 loss to the ‘Canes, Corey Crawford put in a solid performance in goal. He played as well as we remember from the 2010-11 campaign, and a far cry from who we left behind this past spring.

Some saves of note include a point-blanker from Jeff Skinner, who was way too open in the slot and was given all the time in the world to pick his spot and release a rocket wrist shot on the Hawks’ netminder. Crawford saw the puck like a beach ball and threw his glove out with a bit of flair.

At the tail end of the second period, defenseman Brent Seabrook was called for hooking Carolina captain Eric Staal on a breakaway, and Staal was awarded a penalty shot. With his team down 1-0, Crawford calmly (albeit a tad awkwardly) disposed of Staal’s second breakaway opportunity, and as he continued to do throughout the course of the game, allowed the Hawks an attempt to steal a game they had no business being in anymore.

However, Cam Ward was just as solid at the other end of the ice. As his team came composed and ready to play, he had no problem turning away all 30 shots the Blackhawks threw at him.

Crawford allowed three goals, but none of them went unearned. The first goal deflected off an unmindful Tim Brent and found its way to the back of the net. Brandon Sutter scored in the third period on a breakaway after just departing the penalty box for a tripping minor he incurred roughly two minutes earlier. The final goal of the game was the result of a pretty passing play from the unlikely duo of Jiri Tlusty and Bryan Allen.

One important thing I took away from this game is that Crawford was doing what he struggled with throughout most of last season—making the saves that he should make.

We need to look no further back than this past postseason, where a couple of soft OT goals in consecutive games by Phoenix Coyotes’ forwards Mikkel Boedker and Oliver Ekman-Larsson doomed the Hawks’ chance at playoff success with the Pacific Division champions.

NHL caliber goaltenders have to stop the pucks that they can see. As Crawford’s confidence began to wane throughout the course of last season, so did his ability to stop those shots. As a result, he’s become the media’s punching bag—and rightfully so. He did not play well last season.

Crawford will most likely never emerge as an elite goaltender. He won’t challenge Jonathan Quick and Pekka Rinne for the Vezina Trophy over the next couple of seasons, and he won’t put up unreal save percentages north of .94 or goals-against averages less than 1.85.

But Crawford has put up two consecutive 30-plus win seasons. He has elite talent playing in front of him. If goaltending coach Stephane Waite and Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville can reignite that spark of confidence in Crawford, there’s no reason to believe that he can’t rebuild and become the netminder he was in that game against the Hurricanes.

Granted, one game is not an adequate sample size in concluding a player’s ability to perform, but in his rookie season, Crawford regularly performed to the level he did in this game against the ‘Canes.

Also, in the seven games prior to this one, Crawford went 4-1-2 with a 2.08 GAA and .923 SV%.

If he can consistently put up these numbers, he can still be the Hawks' goaltender of the future.