There’s really no way to frame an injury to Corey Crawford as a good thing. He’s been the Blackhawks’ best player during the first two months of the season, and there’s no way the team won’t feel his absence while he’s gone. Yes, the injury is just week-to-week, so there’s your good news, but this is still going to be a tricky time for Chicago.
One person who will be thrown into the fire now is backup goaltender Anton Forsberg. The 25-year-old acquired from the Blue Jackets in the Brandon Saad-Artemi Panarin trade enters center stage to try to stave off any sort of slump while Crawford is sidelined. These next two weeks will go a long way toward determining whether Forsberg has cemented his spot on the depth chart for the foreseeable future.
Consistent playing time has eluded Forsberg in the NHL, so this is a big opportunity for him. He’s started just 14 games between the Blue Jackets and Blackhawks. If Crawford is sidelined for a week, he’ll play three games. If it’s two weeks, Forsberg will be needed for six or seven games.
That’s a meaningful stretch of play for Forsberg to show that he can be relied upon as a stopgap. If it doesn’t go well, it’ll be interesting to see how long before the coaching staff decides to give Jean-Francois Berube, who has a .913 save percentage in 12 AHL games this season, a look.
There’s reason for optimism with Forsberg, though. He’s a good athlete with length (6’3) and a track record of success in the AHL, where he’s posted a .923 save percentage in 126 career appearances.
This season has been a bit of a mixed bag. He’s had shown some flashes behind a shaky defense, but he’s also given up at least two goals in every start. His .903 save percentage certainly doesn’t impress.
However, there are positives to his game. A defense giving up lots of quality chances in front of him hasn’t helped much at all, so his Goals Saved Above Average figure is actually +1.62, according to Corsica. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that Forsberg might perform better in front of a defense that’s not giving up 40 shots a night. Thankfully, the Blackhawks have made some progress there in recent weeks, aside from that rough effort against Dallas.
Chicago has leaned heavily on Crawford this season, having him start 20 of 25 games, so this is really Forsberg’s first shot at playing outside of filling in during back-to-backs. If it goes well, that should go a long way toward building some confidence in the room about losing Crawford for short periods of time. Sure, the Hawks are probably screwed either way if he suffers a major injury, but having a backup good enough to weather shorter absences is a key part of building a good, deep hockey team.
Hopefully we look back and recognize these were the two weeks where Forsberg proved he can hang in the NHL. It starts Saturday night against the Stars.