The Chicago Blackhawks started the season with questions about their goaltending situation.
Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have changed the conversation.
Thanks to having perhaps the NHL’s best goalie tandem, the Blackhawks have broken a league record by opening with at least a point in 22 straight games. They have matched Montreal’s multi-season points run from the 1977-78 season and trail only the Philadelphia Flyers’ streak of 35 straight games with at least a point during the 1979-80 season.
Chicago’s next chance to extend its streak will be Tuesday at home against the Minnesota Wild.
“No matter who is in the net, the guys have been playing very well in front of them, and they give us confidence as well,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Sunday, when his team extended the mark with a 2-1 shootout win at Detroit. “The consistency there has been one of the key factors to the start.”
The Blackhawks (19-0-3) welcomed back Crawford against the Red Wings for the first time since he left last Thursday’s game at St. Louis with an upper-body injury. He didn’t give up a goal in the shootout and finished with 32 saves, including a spectacular one with his glove to prevent Detroit from taking a two-goal lead in the third period, helping Chicago win a ninth straight game.
When Crawford was not healthy enough to play, Emery has been perfect.
“Ray’s been outstanding,” Crawford said. “We’re both kind of feeding off each other.
“It’s a big confidence boost.”
Emery is 9-0 in starts and is among league leaders with a 2.02 goals-against average in 10 games. But the 30-year-old backup insisted he doesn’t mind sitting and watching his 28-year-old teammate play.
“I understand that there are roles and Corey’s the guy,” Emery said.
Quenneville said it has been a “healthy situation,” on and off the ice.
“Both guys want to play and both guys have proven in this league they can be a top goalie,” Quenneville said. “It seems like no matter what player you look at in our lineup, everybody is contributing in a meaningful way and it starts with our goaltenders.”
How challenging is it to decide who plays, especially when Crawford is less than 100 per cent healthy and Emery’s record is unblemished this season?
“We don’t mind tough decisions,” Quenneville said with a grin.
The Blackhawks, though, didn’t like the difficult, but necessary, call they had to make after the franchise won its first NHL title since 1961.
After hoisting the Stanley Cup three years ago, Chicago cut ties with its championship-winning goalie, Antti Niemi, in a salary-cap move and tried to keep winning with past-his-prime Marty Turco and Crawford.
It didn’t work out too well when it mattered most: Chicago got knocked out of the playoffs in the opening round of each of the past two postseasons.
Crawford gave up 13 goals in losses during the first round last year to Phoenix, which won two games in overtime on soft goals against him with Emery as his idle backup. Crawford beat out Turco for the job two years ago and allowed 11 goals in setbacks against Vancouver in the opening round as Chicago’s revamped team failed to defend its championship.
Crawford is coming through this season, allowing a league-low 1.41 goals per game and ranking second with a .945 save percentage. Emery ranks sixth in the NHL with a 2.02 GAA and with his .926 save percentage.
“They’ve got depth all over the place, but it’s a particular luxury to have two goalies like they have,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “If they don’t have one, they can put the other one in without missing a beat.”
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