It’s hard to boil a player’s season down to one play, but for Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford, a flurry of saves he made Thursday night against the Montreal Canadiens might be the perfect representation of a resilient goaltender who continues to prove everyone wrong.
The series of four stops — each one better than the last — came in a span of four seconds. Crawford used his right pad twice, his left pad once and came back to his left for a jumping glove save to finish off the sequence. Even the Bell Centre crowd seemed to appreciate the remarkable effort by the visiting netminder.
It seems remarkable that Crawford, 31, could make those four saves in a row, but fact of the matter is that he’s been making stops like this for the better part of the past two seasons. Few give him credit, though, as they view his situation with the Blackhawks, the only team to win three Stanley Cups in the modern era, to be one of the cushiest gigs in all of goaltending. Not even in Chicago, where Crawford has backstopped the Blackhawks to two Stanley Cups, do Crawford’s supporters outweigh his detractors by much on any given night.
Crawford’s ability has also been overlooked when it comes to the All-Star Game, too. When players head to Tennessee for the all-star break, Crawford won’t be among those jetting to Nasvhille. The 31-year-old netminder will instead be relaxing elsewhere — be it Chicago, home in Montreal or with his feet up on a beach.
While it’s not the be-all, end-all, the All-Star Game is a nice recognition for players. That Crawford won’t be there to represent the Central Division seems odd. As of Friday, Crawford boasts six shutouts (first in the NHL), 25 wins (second), a 2.17 goals-against average (10th) and .929 save percentage (fifth).
Instead of Crawford, the Central will have Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne between the pipes, neither of whom are in the top 10 of all four major goaltending categories. In fact, Rinne has some of the worst numbers of any starting goaltender — he has allowed more goals and lost more games than any netminder while boasting an ugly .902 SP — but lands in the All-Star Game in large part because the game will be in Nashville. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. It’s an event for the fans and seeing Rinne will please those in Nashville. But one can’t help but feel as though this is another instance of Crawford being overlooked.
To paint a picture of how good Crawford has been over the past few seasons, you need only look at his underlying numbers and the company he keeps. Since the beginning of the 2013-14 campaign, Crawford has posted a 5-on-5 SP of .930, good for eighth-best among the 31 goaltenders who have played at least 4,000 minutes at 5-on-5. The only goaltenders ahead of Crawford are the game’s absolute best, including Braden Holtby (.933), Henrik Lundqvist (.932), Tuukka Rask (.934) and Carey Price (.939).
But the argument is usually that on a team like the Blackhawks, Crawford doesn’t face a ton of shots. Crawford definitely isn’t under siege like some netminders, sure, but of the 31 4,000-minute goaltenders, Crawford’s average of 28.7 shots per 60 minutes ranks 17th. It’s not even that Crawford is facing less high-danger changes against, either. Since 2013-14, Chicago has allowed 10.3 high-danger chances against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, per War-On-Ice. Over that period, the Blackhawks are tied with the Capitals and Sharks.
Crawford is not infallible, of course, and he’s certainly been picked apart at times. There was the indictment of his glove hand during the 2013 post-season, and Crawford responded by backstopping the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup. He was picked apart in the opening round of the playoffs in 2015 and replaced by backup Scott Darling. When Crawford got back in goal to end the series, he responded valiantly and ended up helping the Blackhawks to yet another Cup.
The thought of some was once that the Blackhawks won in spire of Crawford’s mediocrity. With everything he has shown fans over the past few seasons, though, it’s impossible to continue to make that argument. Crawford has become an integral part of the Blackhawks’ success. So while Crawford might not be headed to Nashville, it’s hard to deny he’s turning in another all-star worthy performance.