Corey Crawford is off to a slow start for the Chicago Blackhawks, but the defense isn’t helping him much neither.
We are officially two games into a season that already has the feel of what last season brought us. With nine goals against in these two games, is it fair to criticize Corey Crawford’s play already? In a way, yes, it is fair to be criticizing Crawford for the way he has played so far. However, to solely blame him for these two losses would be downright ignorant.
Nine goals on 72 shots for a .875 save percentage and 4.62 goals-against average aren’t the numbers you’d see from a guy who is, and absolutely should be, considered an elite goaltender.
One of the focuses in the offseason was to bolster the defense. An improved defense would likely create an improved penalty, which was dead last in the league at 72.7%. There’s clearly still work to be done, because the Chicago Blackhawks are already ranked 30th in a league at a 50% success rate (3 for 6).
If the argument for this horrible penalty kill is that it’s still early, well then you can chalk that up as a response for all those blaming Corey Crawford for the early hole this team has found themselves in. Crawford certainly has not looked the same as when he’s totally on top of his game. The Michael Raffl goal in the season opener was, what you might say, not ideal:
However, it’s very hard to believe that Calvin de Haan will come back and make such an impact that this team’s defense will see a night-and-day difference. It will be more well-rounded, but there are still weaknesses in every defensive pairing. Erik Gustafsson is on the top power-play unit for good reason, but he is also on this Blackhawks’ top defensive pairing. This should say a lot, considering he was benched late in game one and publicly called out by his coach:
The problem here isn’t strictly the goaltending; it’s also the aging defensemen and inability to have structure in the defensive zone, especially around the net. In the Blackhawks’ home opener against the Sharks, four of the five goals came from around the net, with the exception being Patrick Marleau‘s first goal by a deflection in the slot. The only other goal on a shot from the outside was by Brent Burns, which deflected off Murphy’s glove in front:
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This Chicago Blackhawks team was at their best against the Sharks when they had extended offensive zone time and went hard to the net. With a below-average defense, it’s honestly pretty simple: the more offense you play, the less you have to defend.
Crawford has not looked like an elite, Stanley Cup champion goaltender by any means, but it’s tough to say those flukey goals against the Sharks were entirely his fault. On the other hand, he’s shown such a high level of play in the past that you’d hope he would come up with a save on one of those.
In the end, the goaltender’s job is to give the team a chance to win and you do so by stopping the puck. Two opposing goaltenders could each see 50 shots in a game, and if you let in 9 goals but the other goalie lets in 10, then you did your job. Though, you might get some one-on-one time with the goalie coach before team practice the next day.
The Blackhawks were in a position to win each of the first two games having lost by one goal. With 80 games left in the season, it’s still very early to be playing the “blame game”. However, management did spend $5 million on Robin Lehner, so I’d be shocked if he didn’t start against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night.