As the summer continues without the Blackhawks having made a significant addition to their roster, the man between the pipes has remained the focus of concern for Chicago fans.
Corey Crawford had a disappointing 2011-12 season. Everyone knows that, including Crawford and his bosses (both behind the bench and upstairs). But there is a great case study inside the Central Division that should at least give Hawks fans a moment of pause before running Crawford out of town.
Simply put: the Blackhawks need Crawford to be Jimmy Howard 2.0.
Looking back at their performances in their first couple seasons in the NHL, the similarities are remarkable. Consider here the first full seasons of Crawford and Howard:
Adding context to these numbers, remember that both goalies were stepping into a lineup that had played in the Stanley Cup Final the previous season; Detroit lost to Pittsburgh in 2009, and (obviously) Chicago won the Cup in 2010.
Crawford faced fewer shots per night (27.1) in his first full NHL season than Howard did (29.3), but we end up with save percentages and goals against averages that are comparable.
We’re all too familiar with Crawford’s performance last year, but consider how it stacks up against Howard’s sophomore campaign:
Again, the similarities are remarkable. Crawford’s shots against per game dropped to 26.4 last season, while Howard also faced fewer shots per game (29.0) in his second year with the Wings. Once again, the save percentages and goals against averages are comparable.
The game-changing difference between the two sophomore seasons was the ending. Both goalies got a first round playoff matchup with Phoenix, but Howard’s Red Wings swept the Coyotes out of the postseason in 2011. In that series, Howard allowed 10 goals in the four games; perhaps Detroit’s offense scoring 18 goals in those four games was part of the difference?
Howard’s second season ended with a seven-game series loss to San Jose in the second round in 2011. In that series, Detroit lost both games that went to overtime, and Howard allowed 18 goals in the seven games. Coincidentally, the Red Wings only scored 18 goals against the Sharks in that series.
If we can draw parallels between the first two seasons of Crawford and Howard, what then should Hawks fans hope for in the coming season? Here’s a look at Howard’s performance in his third season in the NHL:
If the Blackhawks can receive similar numbers to those in the coming year, the team in front of Crawford should be able to win more games this year. Then we just have to hope the similarities end with the regular season… Howard’s progression in the postseason has been in the wrong direction, and his .888 save percentage in five playoff games this spring left as much to be desired by the fans in Detroit as we’re trying to cope with this summer in Chicago.
Sophomore goalies struggling isn’t a new concept in the NHL. But how the player responds to the challenge is ultimately what determines the future of both the individual and his team.
It’s on Crawford to be better this season. If he’s the Number One in Chicago on Opening Night, he must be better to keep that title the entire season. But he doesn’t have to look very far to see how a bounce-back is possible.