The Chicago Blackhawks can score. This season’s offensive performances from the Hawks’ elite forwards, and some impressive secondary players, put the Hawks near the top of the NHL in scoring.
Looking at Crawford’s season as a whole, there is plenty of cause for concern. His goals against average and save percentage were both well off of expectations, and he was removed from a game far too many times for fans to remain comfortable with his performance.
Did Crawford pitch a shutout this year? No. The entire free world has hung that statistic around his neck for the last month, and the 2011-12 Blackhawks will own the distinction of racking up over 100 points in a season without a shutout.
Does that matter? Sure.
But Ryan Miller had six shutouts this year, and he would probably trade each and every one of them for Crawford’s spot on the ice Thursday night.
And Cam Ward had five doughnuts on his ledger this year, but he’d probably give them all back in a heartbeat to be in a game this weekend.
The point isn’t that shutouts are meaningless, but that they don’t mean everything in goaltending.
Indeed, looking back over the last few weeks, it appears Crawford is getting his act together. Here are the save percentages from the primary goaltenders of the eight teams in the Western Conference playoffs since March 1:
|St. Louis||Jaroslav Halak||.929|
|St. Louis||Brian Elliott||.954|
|Los Angeles||Jonathan Quick||.915|
|San Jose||Antti Niemi||.918|
As you can see, Crawford’s save percentage since the first of March has been as good or (mostly) better than the other goalies that will take the ice in the Western Conference postseason match-ups.
What’s more, consider the number of shots these guys have faced since the All-Star Break (the number on the far right here is the netminder’s NHL rank):
|St. Louis||Jaroslav Halak||537||22|
|St. Louis||Brian Elliott||364||36|
|Los Angeles||Jonathan Quick||636||19|
|San Jose||Antti Niemi||839||5|
Here, we’re seeing that there have been some health concerns for guys like Jimmy Howard and, now, Brian Elliott (upper-body) down the stretch while other teams have continued to establish who they were going to use as their number one guy in the playoffs.
More importantly to Blackhawks fans, consider the workload put in by 30-year-old Mike Smith for the Coyotes.
The 947 shots he faced since the All-Star Game would represent the third-highest season total in Smith’s career; Smith faced 455 shots in March, compared to 576 last year. Before this season, the most shots Smith had faced in a season in the NHL was 1,282 in 2008-09 with the Lightning, but he raised the bar to 2,066 this year in Phoenix.
To Smith’s credit, he finished the season incredibly strong. But he is truly in uncharted territory right now regarding his ice time, and that cannot be ignored. Add to that his postseason record, which includes only one start and just three appearances, and assuming Smith will be the better goaltender in the upcoming series against the Blackhawks should be far from a foregone conclusion.
On the other end of the ice, Crawford has been erratic but also finished the season on a high note with an 8-1-2 mark since March 1.
And the only real postseason track record we have for Crawford in the postseason was last year’s first round series against Vancouver, in which he posted a .927 save percentage and 2.21 goals against average while being individually responsible for the series lasting to a seventh game.
Crawford became the first Hawks netminder to win 30 games in consecutive seasons since Eddie Belfour in 1992-93 and 1993-94, and Crawford can proudly boast that he owns two of only 18 individual seasons from a Chicago netminder that ended with at least 30 victories.
Certainly Hawks fans will continue to sacrifice finger nails in the name of Crawford for 60 minutes (sometimes 65). But fans should show cautious optimism, if not confidence, that Crawford can get the Hawks past the first round.