After a fantastic rookie season, Chicago netminder Corey Crawford will begin his sophomore campaign on Friday night as the undisputed started between the pipes for the Hawks.
Will he be as good, or better, this year than he was in his 33-win rookie season? Or will Crawford suffer from a second-year slide? Indications are that Hawks fans should have high hopes.
Last year, Crawford became the first Hawks goalie to win 33 games since Jocelyn Thibault in 2001-02, a total that tied with Nashville’s Vezina finalist Pekka Rinne for 14th in the NHL. His 2.30 goals against average ranked seventh in the league, and his .917 save percentage was 16th in the league (just ahead of Buffalo’s Ryan Miller).
But there will always be concerns about the dreaded sophomore slump. Hawks fans need look no further than division opponent Columbus to see a netminder that had an outstanding rookie campaign who hasn’t been nearly as effective since.
There should be little, if any, fear with Crawford as we enter the 2011-12 season, though.
First of all, Crawford worked long and hard to get to the NHL. He played in 255 games in the AHL, including 108 with the Norfolk Admirals before the Hawks moved their affiliation to Rockford. He was tested in a preseason battle with Antti Niemi before the 2009-10 season, and had to take the starting job away from Marty Turco last year.
Taking it easy isn’t consistent with Crawford’s track record or character.
Any honest goalie will tell you that their individual success is a function of quality team play. And that is where Crawford’s greatest asset will be this season.
The rhetoric coming from the United Center has been consistent since the exit interviews back in the spring. Losing in the first round of the playoffs isn’t acceptable for this group of players, and didn’t feel good. The veterans want to get back to the Finals.
That fundamental goal has been at the core of everything said by the free agent additions this summer as well. From long-time NHL veterans like Andrew Brunette and Sean O’Donnell to guys like Daniel Carcillo, Jamal Mayers and Sami Lepisto, Chicago has become a destination for players that want to win.
The coaches and players around him on the ice expect better from themselves heading into the 2011-12 season. If 2009-10 Norris Trophy-winner Duncan Keith can rebound to the form that won him that prestigious honor, Crawford will be skating behind a significantly better group of defensemen.
Frankly, Crawford put up fantastic numbers last year in spite of the play in front of him on many nights. If a re-focused Blackhawks team plays at a championship level in front of him this year, he will benefit. But, more importantly, the accountability of a championship-caliber team won’t let him take a night, or week, off this year.