There was a time not that long ago when people still called for Corey Crawford to get traded. You don’t hear that very often anymore, except for those making tongue-in-cheek references to the days when Crawford was an inexplicable punching bag for a portion of the fan base.
That’s because it’s gotten harder to complain about Crawford and his $6 million cap hit. The 31-year-old has cemented himself as a legitimate top-10 starter in the league, with a reasonable claim at being in the top five. You can put his numbers from the past few years up beside just about anyone. The same goes for his Stanley Cups.
Last season, Crawford finished fourth in 5-on-5 save percentage (.933) among goaltenders with 2,000-plus minutes played, per Corsica Hockey. He was also fourth in save percentage (.924) in all situations. Combined with Darling, a solid backup, the Hawks had the third-best save percentage in the NHL last season.
And little has changed to open this season. Even though the team allowed 11 goals in its first three games, that was largely the result of Crawford and Darling fighting off a deluge of power plays. Many of those goals should be pinned on skaters far more than the guy who plays behind them.
At 5-on-5, the Blackhawks have made 68 saves on 70 shots so far this season. That’s the third-best even strength save percentage (.971) in the NHL so far behind just the Sharks (.977) and Capitals (.977). Only five teams in the league are above 95 percent, and 13 of them are below 90 percent.
While these are admittedly small sample sizes with just 2-3 games for each team, it’s more telling than the even smaller sample of power play goals allowed. And building off what Crawford and Darling did last year, it’s hard not to view the duo as one of the most dependable in hockey.
There might be hiccups as the young players find their way and Joel Quenneville blends to his heart’s desire. But in goal, it’s fair to say the Blackhawks shouldn’t have too many issues in 2016-17.