Power To The People: Second City Hockey's 2011-2012 Season Preview - Crow's Nest

While there were many solid queries made (mostly by Bob LeDonne) concerning the upcoming campaign, it seems appropriate that we start with the backstop of the whole operation, with Toews Makes Funny Faces inquiring about the incumbent in the cage:

For perhaps the First time in a few years, the Hawks are walking into Camp knowing who the #1 Goalie is going to be for the Campaign

Why should we not be concerned about a "sophomore slump" like what happened to Mason in CBJ?

A valid concern indeed. The sophomore slump is a cliche for a reason; many fall prey to it, the most recent of which in net being the aforementioned Steve Mason, who has followed up his Calder winning campaign with steaming piles the last two seasons with GAA's over 3.00 in each. So if Corey Crawford couldn't even boast a Calder nomination in his first go around as Mason did, why should he fare better in the aftermath?

First and foremost, the defensive corps in front of Crow this year will be about a couple dozen parsecs ahead of what was skating in front of Mason in Columbus the past two years (and what will be skating in front of him this year for that matter, I don't care what James Wisniewski's pay check or point total says). The Hawks will boast one of the deepest defensive units in the league, even if Nick Leddy can't make the leap that Stan Bowman is risking his reputation on. And while I've been adamant about my opinions of Duncan Keith's performance last year, even his campaign last year which I considered to dogshit would have been better than anything Columbus had. And I expect a motivated and refreshed Keith to return to form and minimize help chances against Crawford. Additionally, Crawford performed as he did last year without having the benefit of more than one shot blocking specialist aside from Niklas Hjalmarsson. Both Steve Montador and Sean O'Donnell (when in the lineup) have shown to be willing to get pelted for the sake of their goaltender not having to.

Columbus switching gears from Ken Hitchcock's system of smearing the neutral zone with his leftover turkey gravy to both Claude Noel and now Scott Arniel's desire to play a more uptempo game while not really having the personnel to do so has also left Mason out to dry on more than one occasion. Crawford, on the other hand, has a corps of skaters in front of him with the proven track record of being able to minimize shots against due to the simple fact of rarely letting the opposition touch the puck...or at least that's the idea.

Next is a difference in technique. Mason has a size advantage over Crawford (6'4" 212 lbs to Crow's 6'2" 200 lbs), which has exacerbated his difficulties as it works in concert with his more stand-up and unorthodox style. Mason plays far more upright, and further out of his net, relying on his athleticism to make the saves he can't just outright smother with size. Once the book got out Mason to wait the extra beat or make the extra pass, it took him a long time to finally take corrective measures, when he got deeper in his net towards the middle-end of last year. Conversely, Corey Crawford is about as prototypical a butterfly goaltender as you can find, both in his size and in his execution of the technique. Without the extra lank to drag him down, and being designed to take away the entirety of the bottom of the net, maintain impeccable positioning and absorb rebounds, Crawford adheres to a proven school of successful goaltending. It might make him more robotic, but it works, and we all saw what an adventurous goalie looks like behind the Hawks' d-corps last year, and it ain't pretty. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who Crawford looks a LOT like on the ice (minus the comically illegal oversized pads), was once quoted as saying something to effect of "if I have to look spectacular that means I've made a mistake", and the same holds true for Crawford. Simply, he just has a far more reliable technique to fall back on than Mason has.

And lastly, Crow has time on his side. Crawford waited patiently for his turn for the majority of 5 seasons in The A before finally getting his chance last year, having worked and fine tuned his game all along the way producing the product we saw last year. Mason's Calder campaign came after only 3 starts at Syracuse between Columbus and London in the OHL, because it was the Blue Jackets, and who the hell else were they going to start?. Goaltenders, much like defensemen, typically take much longer to develop, and that's what made Mason's rookie year such the anomaly. On top of all of the other factors described, Mason is likely still going through the growing pains in his game that almost all goalies except the true greats face. The only problem is that he's been doing so at the NHL level and not in the minors (and thanks to a pretty nice raise), and in that regard he's a victim of his own success.

So hopefully this allays any fear anyone had of a Mason-like follow up from Crow, as there are clearly a multitude of different circumstances surrounding their situations. Of course, now that I've said that and put it out there, the Hawks will be relying on Alexander Salak by Christmas and Steve Mason will win the Vezina. But I wouldn't put money on either.