For the first time in years, the Chicago Blackhawks know exactly who will be their number one goalie heading into the season.
For the past couple years, there have been battles all the way to March first between Cristobal Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin, then the next season between Huet and Antti Niemi and then last season between Marty Turco and Corey Crawford.
But no more.
Corey Crawford is the unquestioned starter heading into the 2011-2012 season and he has a nice new contract to go along with it.
However, there is still a battle going on for the backup job.
The Hawks brought over Alexander Salak, who they acquired along with Michael Frolik in the Skille trade, from Sweden to compete with veteran Ray Emery, who helped the Ducks make the playoffs last season, as an insurance policy if Salak were to struggle.
Before we go into who is winning the backup goalie job, if anyone is questioning Corey Crawford as the starter so far he has stopped 41 of the 46 shots he has faced, which is right about a 90 percent save percentage.
First, let’s take a look at how the 24 year old Salak is doing.
Alexander Salak has played in two NHL games with the Florida Panthers during the 2009-2010 season, starting one which he lost. In the stats available* Salak has been very good stopping 38 of the 41 shots he has seen, which is good enough for nearly a 93 percent save percentage. He stopped all eight shots he saw against the Penguins while splitting time and then stopped 30 of 33 against Detroit in a game that went to a shootout where he stopped one but allowed two to sneak by.
Emery has not been as successful but his big test is yet to come.
In the only game I have game stats on*, he allowed four goals on 19 shots against the Penguins. That was the same game where Salak stopped all eight shots he faced. Since that game against the Penguins, Emery has not played but is going to get the whole game Friday against the Penguins again and if he preforms poorly he might be handing the job to Salak.
However if he rebounds from his poor performances thus far, he might make the final preseason game against the Captials on Sunday interesting.
Who will be Crawford's backup?
Financially, Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks have nothing invested in Ray Emery.
Whether Alexander Salak is spending the season in Chicago with the big club or Rockford in the AHL,he is still getting paid $612,500 either way. So financially it might be best if Salak wins the job but for the overall depth in the organization it might be better if Emery would to be the backup so the Hawks could keep all three and let Salak get some seasoning in Rockford.
No matter who wins the job I don’t expect them to push Crawford for starts and for him to start between 65-70 games and be in the running for the Venezia Trophy at years end.
Again, for those doubting in Crawford, remember two seasons ago Antti Niemi just narrowly beat out Corey Crawford for the backup job to Huet. If a puck had bounced the other way during that preseason it may have been Crawford as the playoff hero instead of Niemi.
*No box score exists for the Hawks first preseason game against the Oilers in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in which Salak and Emery split time. The Hawks lost the game 4-2 with two goals being scored in both the second and third periods. Emery did start the game, giving up two goals in the second period and Salak giving up one, with the fourth probably being an empty netter.