The No. 1 problem for the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2017-18 NHL season revolved around the goaltending depth chart.
And the biggest issue with it? Corey Crawford wasn’t at the top of it for about half the season.
Multiple injuries (or maybe the same one the whole time?) kept Crawford out for the majority of the season. And the rest of the Blackhawks goaltending depth could not match the level of Crawford’s play, which approached Vezina Trophy consideration during the first few months of the season.
The Blackhawks have been largely fortunate during Crawford’s eight-year reign as Chicago’s No. 1 goalie: this was the first season when Crawford missed substantial time. He’s started in at least 55 games in every full season while starting 28 of the 48 games in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
But that luck ran out in 2017-18. Crawford was his usual elite self in the first few months of the season, before an injury forced him out for the first few games of December. He came back on December 8 and the Hawks promptly won five in a row. But after getting pulled in a 4-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils on December 23, Crawford didn’t appear in another game for the rest of the season.
And the numbers? They speak for themselves.
Stats courtesy of hockey-reference.com
Crawford started just under one-third of his team’s games and accounted for nearly half of his team’s 33 wins. His save percentage and goals-against average are well ahead of the rest of the pack. And those are just the overall numbers. The more in-depth goalie statistics only widen the gap between Crawford and the rest of Chicago’s goalies.
Crawford’s even-strength SA% was at 93.38, while the quartet of Anton Forsberg, Jeff Glass Jean-Francois Berube and Collin Delia (Scott Foster and his sparking 100.0% exempted here) combined to stop 1,329 of the 1,459 shots they faced, resulting in a sub-standard total of 91.1 percent. That 2.28-percent gap accounts for about 48 even-strength goals when applied to the season total of 2,114 even-strength shots faced by Chicago’s goalies this winter. Considering the Blackhawks were outscored 205-185 at even-strength this season, those 48 goals could’ve gone a long way toward getting Chicago into a playoff position.
The numbers get worse when the focus shifts to the penalty kill.
Stats courtesy of corsica.hockey
Crawford’s save percentage while a man down was an even 90 percent, stopping 117 of the 130 shots he faced. The other four combined for 85 percent, making saves in 212 of 249 shots. The five-percent gap there meant about 12 more goals went into the Chicago net on the PK against the other four than they would have against Crawford.
Add that with the 48 even-strength goals above, and it’s a 60-goal difference over the course of a season between Crawford and the players who were his backups. Sample sizes are not great here, of course, and there’s always going to be a drop-off in play from a starting goaltender to No. 2, especially when that No. 1 is a player of Crawford’s stature. But that massive gap, was indicative of one of Chicago’s biggest problems all season: keeping the puck out of its own net.