Blackhawks need Crawford to step up in goal
The Chicago Blackhawks inquired about signing Martin Brodeur before he eventually re-upped with the New Jersey Devils. Roberto Luongo has talked glowingly about the potential of playing for the Blackhawks, and it's technically still feasible it could happen in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.
So what is Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford to think about all that after a season of not living up to expectations?
According to Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, he shouldn't be paying attention of any of it.
"I saw [Crawford] at least a couple to three times already this summer and his attitude has been great," Quenneville told NHL.com. "I like his approach and we expect him to bounce back. He's welcoming the challenge."
Even with Luongo's situation yet to be resolved, all indications as of now are that the Blackhawks will give Crawford the chance to bounce back and become, as Quenneville referred to him, "the top guy we think he can be."
If Crawford proves he is a top goalie, Chicago should be good enough to contend for the Stanley Cup. If he struggles in the same manner he did last season, when he won 30 games but posted a .903 save percentage and 2.72 goals-against average -- 16th and 25th, respectively, among goalies with 40 or more starts -- the Blackhawks could be first-round fodder for a third straight season.
Chicago doesn't need Crawford to be great every night to contend for the Cup; it just needs him to be good a lot of the time.
"We all know the importance of goaltending -- and we're going to need him to be solid, or even better than solid," Quenneville said. "He's quiet, but when you know his personality he's more upbeat and he felt sometimes (last season) that he'd have to be great every night. That's part of the learning curve to being a consistent goalie as a No. 1."
Crawford gave the Blackhawks and their fans hope he was the final answer at the position late in the 2010-11 season. He closed strong, going 15-6-3 down the stretch. Then, in the face of an 0-3 hole against Vancouver in the first round, Crawford eschewed the outside pressure and the relentless Canucks' offense to win three straight and give the Blackhawks a chance in Game 7.
They lost in overtime, beaten by Alexandre Burrows' knuckling slap shot after a giveaway. However, in many respects Chicago's comeback and Crawford's goaltending became top NHL storylines early in the playoffs.
The story changed last season, when Crawford's successes were bruised by his inconsistencies.
It wasn't until mid-February, after a brutal nine-game winless streak (Crawford went 0-4-1 with 19 goals allowed), that he finally got rolling. He won 12 of his last 17 starts, including five straight in the middle of March. It was again a strong finish, but it was marred by a tough first five months of the season.
And, unlike in 2011, when Crawford was able to persevere through the adversity in the playoffs, he went backward against the Phoenix Coyotes, giving up three or more goals five times in a six-game first-round loss.
"It fluctuated as the season went on," Quenneville said of Crawford's effectiveness. "We had that tough streak losing nine games in a row. I'm not blaming him. As a team we had a tough stretch. He's a very low-key guy. His personality is kind of quiet. But I could sense that he was probably frustrated that he didn't have the same results that he was getting the year before.
"I would expect him to get back to being that top goalie again. He's looking to recapture that feeling he had"
Quenneville's future in Chicago and the Blackhawks' hopes may very well be tied to Crawford's ability to find it. As of now, they're counting on him.
"I just have to go out there and play well and show them," Crawford told reporters in Chicago last month. "That's all I can do on my part."