It wouldn't be April in Chicago without wondering who will be the Blackhawks starting goalie come playoff time.
Off days usually give writers headaches on what to write about. These are usually the days where we see stories about how fighting is either good or bad, or a guy like David Haugh pines for members of the 2010 team to return. Today I am going to tackle a bit of a hot topic; this year’s version of the Blackhawks "goalie controversy" between Ray Emery and Corey Crawford. I don’t think the Hawks have a controversy so to speak, it’s more of a luxury. They have a very good starting goaltender with a backup who is having one hell of a season.
Blackhawks fans should be used to the goalie rodeo because it has happened every year since Joel Quenneville has been here. It started with Nikolai Khabibulin and Christobal Huet in 2008-09. Then we saw Huet and Antti Niemi switch off in 2009-10. Following the Stanley Cup season Q couldn’t decide between Marty Turco and Crawford and the last two years Crow and Razor have shared the Hawks net.
But Quenneville’s love for multiple goalies has been on his resume from the very beginning. In his first two full seasons as head coach of the Blues he split his net between Grant Fuhr and Jamie McLennan. He also used the combinations of Roman Turek and Brent Johnson and Johnson and Fred Brathwaite. In 2002-03 seven different goalies made a start in St. Louis including Chris Osgood and the ghost of Tom Barrasso.
This trend followed Coach Q to Colorado, and in his first season as Avalanche coach he split the starts between David Aebischer and Peter Budaj. The next two seasons Budaj had to share time with Jose Theodore. The fact is Quenneville is yet to have a season where he has had a work horse goaltender. I am not saying that this strategy is right or wrong because you can’t argue with the results. Q has 654 regular season wins, a Stanley Cup, a Jack Adams award and his teams have only missed the playoffs twice in his 16 years behind the bench.
This season, Crawford and Emery have both done their fair share of great things in the net. Last year the Blackhawks had zero shutouts in 82 games. Through 39 games the Hawks already have 6; 3 from Emery, 2 from Crawford and one shared after Crow left with an injury. Is the goaltending that much improved from last year? Sure, both guys have made some improvements to their game but they are also being helped by a better team defense being played in front of them. Crow and Razor have both made their cases to be the starter for the playoffs.
Emery is currently getting a lot of love from the press and the fans to be the guy to take us to the promised land of hockey glory. I personally think it would be a very ballsy move by Q to go with Emery in the playoffs. His numbers are pretty sick right now with a 15-1-0 record to go along with a 1.90 GAA and a .924 save %. He has given up 3 or more goals in only 5 times this year. If you look at the teams Emery has been drawing he isn’t exactly facing the cream of the crop. 10 of his 17 starts have been against teams who would not be in the playoffs if they started today. Conversely, Crow has faced teams who are currently in the top 8 in 14 of his 22 starts. Razor’s three shutouts have come against Calgary, Nashville and Minnesota who are collectively averaging 2.49 goals per game. Needless to say Emery is going to face tougher competition in the playoffs and that is a concern.
One of the reasons I have heard why Emery should start in the playoffs is because the team plays better in front of him. To me that is just a silly statement. As stated above, he is playing against some of the weaker teams so of course the team looks better in those games. And even if this is true, then why can’t the team just play in front of Crawford like they do for Emery?
Another concern of mine is Emery’s durability. When I expressed this worry via Twitter I got responses about 2007 when Razor helped the Ottawa Senators reach the Stanley Cup Final. Did we forget that Emery had a bone graft done on his hip, in 2010, due to avascular necrosis? Granted, he has made an amazing comeback from this aliment but he has yet to be put through the test of a grueling Stanley Cup playoff run.
One of many things I have learned on Twitter is that Blackhawks fans have a short memory about some things and never forget others. Some of my followers have called Crawford a "choke artist" and "soft" on my feed recently. I think both of the labels are a bit harsh and unfair. Yes, the overtime goals Crow gave up in Games 3 and 4 versus the Coyotes were really bad. But, let’s not pin that entire series loss on Corey Crawford. There were many factors on why the Hawks were bumped in 6 games. Jonathan Toews was not nearly 100 %. We lost Marian Hossa for the series early on in Game 3. Andrew Shaw missed half the series due to Mike Smith’s flop. We had an unreliable 3rd defensive pairing that included the likes of Sean O’Donnell and Dylan Olsen. And did we forget how horrid the power play was? The Blackhawks were a pitiful 1 for 19 for the series. In Games 3 and 4, the Hawks went 0 for 6. Had the power play been average, in a series that featured 5 straight overtime games, Crow might not have even been put in the position to give up those two bad goals. And apparently the 2011 playoff series against the Canucks, where Crawford was amazing, never happened for some people either.
Crawford has been taking a lot of heat for some recent questionable goals and struggling with 3rd period leads. Again, the team as a whole has struggled in the 3rd period not just Crow. Some of the goals have come during long shifts for Hawks defenders due to the fact that they cannot clear the puck from their zone. Yes, Crawford has given up a few goals that are inexcusable, but name me one goalie that doesn’t have some of those during a season.
It’s not like Crawford has been getting torched for 5 goals a night all of a sudden. His overall body of work this year has been damn good. Crawford has held teams to 2 or less goals 15 times this year. His 2.01 GAA is 5th in the league (Razor is 3rd at 1.90), his .922 save % has him ranked 11th in the entire league and 6th for goalies with at least 20 starts this year.
Corey Crawford was not allowed to develop through the Hawks system and signed to a 3 year deal to watch the playoffs from the bench. That is why I believe he is going to be given every chance to earn the right to be the #1 goalie in the playoffs, it will not be handed to him. I would be very surprised if Ray Emery is in between the pipes for Game 1 of the playoffs. The Hawks have the luxury of being able to go to Emery if Crow stumbles out of the blocks. Bottom line is, if the Blackhawks continue to play team defense at the elite level we have seen most of the year, we are in store for a deep run. After all, that seemed to work ok in 2010 with Antti Niemi, another goaltender that some said could never win a Stanley Cup.
Who should be the Blackhawks #1 goalie in the playoffs