Is Corey Crawford the New Antti Niemi?

Mary Ann Reitano@MusingMaryAnnContributor IIIOctober 15, 2010

Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville had stated in pre-game interviews that starting Corey Crawford in goal was a planned move. Nonetheless, I can’t help but feel that there was more to this move than meets the eye. 

The Hawks’ front office has worked hard since signing former Dallas Stars goaltender Marty Turco by silhouetting him in every possibly public event in the hopes of tempering the emotional ties that many Hawk fans had to Antti Niemi, the goaltender who won them Lord Stanley’s Cup. 

Coach Q may well be sending Turco a message.  The confidence that could have easily border on cockiness that oozed from Turco in the preseason certainly isn’t carrying over to the ice.  Turco may need to click his heels and be reminded he isn’t in Dallas anymore. 

The expectations Chicago had for Turco were well understood from the front office up to the 300 level of the Madhouse and while it is certainly early in the season, Turco has been consistently touted as an NHL veteran yet certainly isn’t reflecting his billing as of yet.

While some Blackhawks fans are willing to give Marty Turco some more time in the net to get his skates under him, I don’t necessarily agree.  Having had the opportunity to attend Monday night’s game at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, I can’t help but think that we may soon be seeing a déjà vu of last year’s goaltending battle between Antti Niemi and Cristobol Huet.

After some early game jitters, Chicago’s No. 2 goalkeeper Crawford seemed to comfortably settle into his crease and make some saves that were reminiscent of what we had become accustom to with Antti in net as the playoff beards began to grow last season. 

While some still feel Crawford is still a question mark as his performance has been inconsistent at best; he may well be mirroring Niemi in the way he seamlessly came of age before our very eyes with impeccable timing.

Before the game clock read 12:00 left in the first period my Blackberry was abuzz with texts and calls wondering what was happening and voicing what I was also feeling; it looked like it was going to be a long night for the noticeable sea of red and black in attendance.  Yet it was clear that as the game progressed Crawford was more relaxed in goal than Turco had appeared in his first two regular season appearances.   

The play of the new Blackhawk lines seemed to sense that same confidence as their play picked up as well as the clock ticked into the second period.   Once rookie Nick Leddy tied the game with his first NHL goal at 4:08, the tempo of the game picked up dramatically and the Blackhawks seemed to come alive. At that point there was really no looking back.

It will be interesting to watch as this storyline progresses through the early part of the season.  Will Turco be able to step up his game to meet the expectation level that brought him to Chicago or will Crawford continue to find his inner confidence and surpass Turco into the No. 1 position? 


Closing Slapshots:

Watching Sabres winger Jason Pominville motionless on the ice was sobering to say the least. Yet the roar of the crowd, from both home and visiting fans, when Pominville gave a visible thumbs up from the stretcher as he was leaving the ice was a relief for all in attendance.  A speedy recovery, Jason.

The Hawks win Monday was the first win in Buffalo since Dec of 2001; always a nice record to put to sleep.

Core players came ready to play.  Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa were prominent with every shift of play.  Toews was impressive with quickly getting Leddy’s puck from the net for him (a possible Pronger reflex?) and for not hesitating to get into the scrap heap when the retaliation for the Pominville hit started. 

Hossa certainly is eager this season and I expect to see him have a breakout year now that he is healthy and has that Cup win under his belt.