This is the final installment in Second City Hockey’s six-part position group preview on the Blackhawks and their AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs. We’ve covered the forwards and the defensemen during the last two days, and now we end it with the goaltenders.
Meet the new boss ...
Robin Lehner (w/ NYI): 46 GP, 25-13-5, .930 SA%, 2.13 GAA, 26.24 GSAA
Lehner was one of the top goalies in the NHL last season, winning the Jennings Trophy for backstopping the team with the fewest goals allowed and placing third in the Vezina Trophy voting. Lehner also earned the Masterton Trophy, related to his opening up about the bipolar diagnosis and addiction issues he’d been battling.
The Islanders allowed just 191 goals last season, part of the defensive fortress constructed by new head coach Barry Trotz. Such a system won’t exist in Chicago, where the Blackhawks are coming off a season that saw them allow the second-most goals in the NHL (291, second to Ottawa’s 301). The advanced statistics also detail how much better the Islanders’ defense was at preventing shots and, ultimately, goals. Per Corsica, New York ranked 15th in the league at 57.4 even-strength shot attempts against per 60 minutes. Chicago was 23rd at 56.9. New York ranked seventh in the league with 2.4 even-strength expected goals per 60 minutes. Chicago was dead last at 2.8. The Blackhawks have upgraded their personnel, but the gap between their defense and the Islanders from last season may be too large to close in one offseason.
And that’s where the intrigue starts with Lehner. Was he merely a product of that impenetrable defense or did he have a huge hand in that team’s defensive success last season? Lehner’s 26.2 goals saved above average suggests it’s closer to the latter than the former, but the true test will be realized once he suits up behind that questionable Chicago defense.
Same as the old boss?
Corey Crawford: 39 GP, 14-18-5, .908 SA%, 2.93 GAA, -2.00 GSAA
Speaking of GSAA numbers, for the first time since Crawford’s sophomore season, the veteran Chicago netminder saw his GSAA slip into the negatives at -2.0 last season. The eye test through portions of the season matched up with those numbers, as Crawford didn’t always look like his old self. But during the final two months, vintage Crawford resurfaced, most notably in a dazzling 48-save shutout Mar. 16 in Montreal.
After a full offseason without any health concerns, there’s reason to believe Crawford could display that form more often. However, it should also be noted he will be turning 35 on New Year’s Eve and is certainly on the back nine of his career. A platoon with Lehner should help keep Crawford fresh as the season drags on. But how long Crawford can maintain the same level of play will be one of the biggest issues going forward — especially with his contract expiring next summer.
In fact, that’s one of the most interesting aspects of the entire goaltending situation. Both Crawford and Lehner will be unrestricted free agents next summer and young prospect Collin Delia continues knocking on the door with strong performances in Rockford. Not only will Crawford and Lehner be competing for ice time with each other this season, they could also be in competition for a spot with the Blackhawks for the ‘20-21 season.