When the Blackhawks closed the door on the 2018-19 season there was one position that seemed to be clear heading into the offseason — goaltending.
Corey Crawford would return to his starting role and Collin Delia, who showed some promise during his NHL call up and was once again one of the top goaltenders in the AHL, would move up to be Crawford’s backup with Cam Ward retiring. Delia would then likely take over the starting NHL job for the 2020-21 season after Crawford’s contract expired.
But that’s not how things went.
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman swooped in and signed Robin Lehner to a one-year contract worth $5 million after the Islanders couldn’t reach a deal with the Vezina Trophy finalist. Delia, as expected, has remained positive about the situation and kept plugging away in the AHL.
With $11 million tied up between Crawford ($6 million) and Lehner ($5 million), one question surfaced immediately: how would Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton manage starts between the two? Crawford, who will turn 35 years old in December, has missed significant time the past two seasons with concussions while the 28-year-old Lehner is coming off a career season.
Bowman and Colliton said the plan is to “ride the hot hand” and start the goalie that gives them the best chance to win. That hasn’t been the case as both goalies have started five games each through the first 10 games, and each of them has made consecutive starts once.
Crawford: 1-4, 18 GA, .888 SV%, 3.67 GAA, 1 QS, -3.27 GSAA
Lehner: 2-1-2, 11 GA, .935 SV%, 2.15 GAA, 4 QS, 4.47 GSAA
Lehner has performed better overall with four quality starts, which is based on having at least the league’s average save percentage for the season in a game or having an .885 save percentage in games where a goalie faces 20 or fewer shots. His lone game that wasn’t a quality start came in a 4-1 home loss to the Flyers that saw two Philadelphia goals waived off after reviews showed there was an offside infraction.
Crawford, meanwhile, only has one quality start with Chicago’s 3-1 home win over the Oilers. He stopped 28 of 29 shots in the victory.
One of the bigger statistical differences between Crawford and Lehner is with goals saved above average, which shows the goals a goalie prevented given his save percentage and shots faced against the league average save percentage on the same number of shots. Lehner is performing better than the league average with a 4.47 GSAA that ranks eighth in the league compared to Crawford’s minus-3.27 GSAA, which is worse than the league average and puts him 46th among all goalies.
The tried-and-true cliche of a team’s best penalty killer being their goalie also points in favor of Lehner, who has a .960 save percentage (one goal on 25 shots) on the penalty kill compared to Crawford’s .588 percentage (seven goals on 15 shots). Lehner’s career .894 save percentage while shorthanded shows his performance thus far is more of the norm for him.
At 5-on-5, though, Crawford and Lehner’s numbers are strikingly similar this season with both making 127 saves, and Crawford seeing one more more shot (136) than Lehner (135).
Both goalies have been able to keep the Blackhawks in games the team shouldn’t have been in, and if Chicago wants to give itself the best chance to kill penalties and win games they’ll start leaning more toward Lehner in net.