Goalie Corey Crawford has a Stanley Cup to his credit, and if it were not for one bad bounce in this year's playoffs, he might very well have two on his resume.
When the Blackhawks saw the Los Angeles Kings eliminate the New York Rangers in five games in the Stanley Cup Final, it had to hurt Joel Quenneville and Co. nearly as much as the defeat stung head coach Alain Vigneault and his Broadway Blueshirts.
That's because all the Blackhawks needed to get to the Stanley Cup Final was a goal at home in overtime of the seventh game of the Western Conference Final. Instead of getting that goal, the Blackhawks were victimized by some poor puck luck, as Kings defenseman Alec Martinez flipped a wrist shot that deflected off defenseman Nick Leddy and got by Crawford for the decisive goal in the classic series.
Despite the funky nature of that goal, nobody was blaming Crawford for the defeat. He had played well throughout the majority of the playoffs, and when the Blackhawks needed him to come up with a series of saves or one crucial big play, he was solid against the St. Louis Blues, the Minnesota Wild and the Kings before ultimately giving up the final goal.
Despite his solid playoff performance, Blackhawks fans don't always hold Crawford with the same kind of esteem as they have for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith or even Patrick Sharp.
More often than not, Blackhawks fans are frustrated by Crawford because of his inconsistent play in the regular season. While his overall numbers were good in 2013-14, recording a 2.26 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage, Crawford seemed to give up at least one stoppable goal in most games.
Additionally, he had a number of subpar games that drew criticism from callers on talk shows and at times caused angst for his head coach.
Crawford set a tone for vulnerability early in the season. During a six-game stretch in November, Crawford gave up three or more goals five times. The high-scoring Blackhawks went 4-2-0 in that stretch, but Crawford's indifferent play repeated itself in December and January when the Blackhawks went 3-4-6 during his starts.
The Blackhawks struggled in regular-season overtime and shootouts throughout the season, and some of that is on Crawford.
Quenneville has been largely supportive of his goalie and is clearly in his camp. However, he grew frustrated with his goalie in an early December game against the Wild, in which Crawford gave up two goals in the final four minutes and turned a 3-2 lead into a 4-3 defeat. After the game, Quenneville told the media that Crawford "needed to be better."
Quenneville also took that same route with his goalie early in this year's playoff run. When Crawford let in a soft goal from defenseman Barret Jackman in at the 5:50 mark of overtime to give the Blues a 2-0 lead in the series, he had a meeting with his coach.
After the meeting, Crawford and Quenneville were in agreement. “He said he needs to be better, and he needs to be better,” Quenneville told ESPN Chicago's Scott Powers.
That meeting of the minds turned out to be a crucial moment for Crawford. He had a 2.53 GAA and a .912 save percentage throughout the playoffs, and his crucial stops and key saves helped eliminate the Blues and then the Wild.
While Crawford gets a B or B+ for his overall performance in 2013-14, he gets a C- for consistency. Crawford raised his game and made some eye-catching saves when the Blackhawks needed him, but he also put the Blackhawks in a hole far too frequently with his lapses.
He needs to be more consistent and avoid those lapses in 2014-15.
Crawford may not be good enough to exceed the performances of goalies like Tuukka Rask, Henrik Lundqvist or Jonathan Quick during the regular season, but he is not that far behind. He needs to be worthy of All-Star consideration next year.
That means avoiding losing streaks and giving up goals in bunches, something that happened with a bit too much frequency in 2013-14.
The Blackhawks made a move to help Crawford perform more consistently when they brought in Jimmy Waite to be their goalie coach for the upcoming season. If that name seems familiar, it's because Waite is the brother of former Blackhawks goalie coach Stephane Waite, who left prior to last season after 10 years with the team to take a similar position with the Montreal Canadiens.
Steve Weeks, who was brought in as goalie coach after Stephane Waite left, was fired by Quenneville after one season.
Jimmy Waite had been the goalie coach for Chicoutimi of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for the last three seasons. He was drafted by the Blackhawks in 1987, and he played 58 games for them in eight seasons.
While Quenneville would not get into the specifics of why he fired Weeks, it's clear that he wants more consistency from Crawford. "Tough to break it down exactly, the change,” Quenneville told Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s something we just wanted to do.”
The Blackhawks present what may be the most talented roster in the league on a nightly basis. However, if they are going to get back on top and make another run at the Stanley Cup, they need to see a more consistent season from their No. 1 goalie next year.
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