Chicago Blackhawks’ Corey Crawford Off To Unusual Start

Oct 24, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) makes a save on Calgary Flames center Sam Bennett (93) during a shootout at the United Center. The Flames won 3-2 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 24, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) makes a save on Calgary Flames center Sam Bennett (93) during a shootout at the United Center. The Flames won 3-2 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /

The Chicago Blackhawks’ starting goaltender has some very strange numbers through the team’s first seven games

You might look at an NHL team’s 3-3-1 record and the fact it has allowed fewer than three goals in just one of seven games, and you might assume the goaltender is at fault.

Perhaps it’s the defense, but when you give up goal totals of 5, 3, 3, 4, 3, 4 and 2, something has to be off with the guy between the pipes.

Boy, do the Chicago Blackhawks have a surprise for you.

Corey Crawford is off to one of the strangest statistical starts in recent memory. His basic stats sit at this: 1-3-1, .897 save percentage, 3.02 goals-against average. And yet, he isn’t having a bad start to the season.

Honestly, he isn’t. Let’s look at the weird statistics of Crawford and try to figure out what’s going on here. After all, the guy is coming off a season in which he was a top-five Vezina Trophy candidate.

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Even-strength power

Let’s start with this tidbit: In five starts this season, Crawford has allowed three even-strength goals. Regardless of the competition, that’s really good. You think he’d have at least one shutout with a stat like that.

And yet, he’s been unable to allow fewer than two goals in a game. But before we jump further into that, let’s look a little more at Crow’s even-strength statistics.

In the opener against St. Louis, Crow was 19 for 19 at evens. He followed that up with a 21-for-21 performance against Nashville. So that’s two of the league’s better teams — and certainly two of the Central Division’s better teams — stoned at even strength.

Crow was due for a bit of a letdown, of course, as he stopped 21 of 23 even-strength chance against Philadelphia. Still far from awful, though, in a bubble. He’s followed that up with 24 of 25 against Columbus and 22 of 22 against Calgary.

Add all those up, and you get a 107 of 110 success rate — a save percentage of .973. That is a ridiculous start to the season, no matter the opposition.

Still, Crow’s success at evens is little surprise. He looks totally comfortable in 5-on-5 play, he’s generally staying in his crease nicely and he’s pushing a lot of his rebounds to the boards, as is typical for Crow. He’s also received some help from the even-strength defense.

So why does Crow have one win on the season? And how much of that falls on him?

Killed by penalties

To put it bluntly, the Blackhawks have been an undisciplined team early in the season. They’re parading to the box at an alarming rate, racking up 29 penalties in seven games. That’s more than four per contest.

If the Blackhawks’ penalty kill was any good at the moment, they could afford to act like the St. Louis Blues (though you still wouldn’t want them to). But the kill can hardly make a stop, and that’s where we come back to Crow.

There’s always been a line of thought that your goaltender is supposed to be your best penalty killer. So when your starter has allowed 12 (!) goals on the penalty kill through five starts, that’s obviously a cause for concern.

On the PK, Crow has appeared to come a lot further out of his crease to stop attempts. This may be an effort to effort to take more whistles or simply minimize the effect of opponents whom the Blackhawks’ PK guys are letting get to the crease.

Regardless, this strategy has seen Crow out of position for several easy tap-ins off shots from above the circles. While there are ample reasons for him to try and bust out of the net to cut off angles and prevent second chances, he may be best served staying at home from now on.

Little help from teammates

Of course, he probably would be more comfortable doing so if the Blackhawks could keep guys from getting within one foot of Crow on every PK. There hasn’t been a chance this year where an opponent didn’t go down low totally unchecked, ready for a rebound or tap-in.

Yes, it is five guys against four, but you don’t constantly see opposing teams just giving up tap-in PK goals. Otherwise, every team in the league would be close to 100 percent on the powerplay, and that just doesn’t happen.

Some of this stems off the Blackhawks’ inability to win faceoffs. Jonathan Toews is having his typical success at the dot, but Marcus Kruger has been just average, Nick Schmaltz can’t be trusted to handle PK faceoffs and Artem Anisimov has been putrid at the dot so far.

When you immediately lose possession of the puck down a man, it’s not exactly easy to get it back.

It’s not all on the non-Crow Blackhawks, however, Crow’s rebound control on the PK has been a little sketchy early on. Instead of pushing a lot of his rebounds to the boards, as he typically does and has been able to do at evens, Crow’s PK rebounds are often rolling right in front of him.

While his teammates’ struggles at covering opponents and winning faceoffs don’t help Crow see fewer shots on the PK, Crow also needs to fine-tune his rebound control if the Blackhawks’ PK is going to improve.

Still can’t be unhappy with the goaltender

Certainly, some fans are calling for a goaltending change despite the fact backup Scott Darling has given up five even-strength goals in two starts. This is simply a matter of the Blachawks piecing things together.

More discipline is a good first step. Stronger faceoff efforts in the defensive zone on PKs are also important. As is now allowing so many guys to get so close to Crow without even being touched.

At the same time, Crow needs to stick with what he knows on the PK. It’s not always easy with his teammates occasionally running around with their heads cut off, but staying at home in the net and calming his rebound control are two key factors for Crow to help himself more on the PK.

Next: Blackhawks' Success Stories Cashing In

No doubt Crow’s even-strength stats will eventually dip a bit and his PK stats will improve. It’s the nature of the beast in an 82-game regular season. But the way things have started for the two-time Stanley Cup winner makes for a really interesting analysis.