The Chicago Blackhawks won again Thursday night, and you can largely thank Corey Crawford for that. The goaltender saved all 38 shots the Colorado Avalanche fired at him in a 4-0 win, giving him five straight outings in which he’s allowed two or fewer goals. The Hawks a 4-0-1 in those games despite being outshot at even strength.
Crawford is the best player on the Blackhawks right now, and a few weeks into the season, he’s a full-blown Vezina Trophy contender. A year after getting snubbed from the final three in a career-best season, the goaltender is on his way to making sure voters don’t make the same mistake again.
The dominance starts during 5-on-5 play, where Crawford logs most of his minutes and has the greatest amount of control over his performance. The early struggles on the penalty kill this season were out of character, but one reason nobody panicked too much about Crawford’s shorthanded struggles was how well he played in other situations. Chicago’s PK didn’t do him many favors, either, considering how many of those power play goals came in front of the doorstep or via a screen.
But getting back to even strength, Crawford hasn’t just been good this season. He’s been operating on another level.
Crawford has logged 410.5 minutes during 5-on-5 play so far this season. During that time, he’s faced 222 shots on goal, and stopped 218 of them. That’s a success rate of 98.1 percent, which, yes, is absolutely nuts. Carey Price has a 97.4 save percentage during 5-on-5, but he’s only faced 153 SOG. Among goalies that have faced at least 200 SOG at 5-on-5 this season, Sergei Bobrovsky is second ... with a save percentage of 93.9.
Here are the top goalies in Goals Saved Above Average, which measures goals allowed compared to expectations based on shot volume and shot danger, during 5-on-5 play, via Corsica Hockey. Higher is better:
Notice the separation that Crawford has already accumulated compared to the other goaltenders. The combination of a high workload and astonishing efficiency has created some real separation between Crawford and the rest of the field in terms of value provided to their respective teams.
Now, it’s worth noting that Crawford’s struggles on the penalty kill have suppressed his numbers in general. He gave up a lot of shorties early in the season, so he’s only sixth in overall save percentage among all goalies to play at least 200 minutes. He’s only fifth in overall GSAA behind Price, Bobrovsky, Cam Talbot and Devan Dubnyk.
But Crawford appears to be past his struggles on the PK, and the rest of his game indicates he’s on an absolute roll right now. While you can expect some regression in his 5-on-5 save percentage over time, you can also feel pretty confident that Crawford won’t perform as poorly on special teams going forward. The net result should be one of the best goalies in hockey.
Over the past five games, Crawford has been scorching. He’s saved 162 of 167 shot attempts (97 percent) overall and 137 of 138 shots (99.3 percent) at even strength over that stretch. The Blackhawks haven’t played mind-blowingly good hockey, but they keep winning. Crawford is by far the biggest reason for that, like when the Hawks beat the Avalanche by four goals despite getting outshot by 17. That only happens when your goalie is in a zone. Only Price comes close to him lately:
Carey Price past 5 games at 5v5: 125 saves on 128 attempts (97.6%)— Second City Hockey (@2ndCityHockey) November 4, 2016
Corey Crawford past 5 games at 5v5: 137 saves on 138 attempts (99.3%)
As you can see, Crawford is in the zone. He’s the hottest goaltender in hockey, and after a rough start to the season, he’s playing his way into the Vezina Trophy conversation. At this pace, it might be hard for someone else to win it.