- Jesse Rogers, Chicago Cubs beat reporter
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CHICAGO-- Goalie Corey Crawford was last to walk into the press room on the day when the Chicago Blackhawks cleaned out their lockers and said their goodbyes. He would be the last voice on the season that finished too early for fans and players alike. And in many people’s minds, the team’s early demise was partly on Crawford.
“I don’t think the whole year was negative,” Crawford said unprompted. “Obviously a disappointing finish, I thought we could have gone further. … It seemed like it was a year with a little bit more frustration [that] set in than it should have. ... but overall it wasn’t as bad a year as most people would think. I just have to make sure those down times aren’t as long, aren’t as bad for next season.”
So already Crawford is learning from his sub-par season. He can’t let bad goals or bad games carry over. It’s a good lesson to learn, but is it enough? Can the Hawks win the Stanley Cup with Crawford in net? We can safely say he’s no outright bust. He’s not Cristobal Huet. Many might think they know what he is, but in reality no one does. Not yet.
“The goalie growth chart, when you look at all the top goalies, you look at their sophomore season, it doesn’t quite measure up to their rookie year,” Joel Quenneville said before Crawford took to the media stand. “You look at a lot of goalies in the league, the longer they’re in the league the more effective they are. They get better and better with time. In Corey’s case we expect him to get better as we go along here. Having confidence and showing it in him is the right thing to do.”
That’s telling from a coach who has no issues with replacing his starter. Quenneville could have couched his words or been a little harsher, and no one would have blinked, probably not even Crawford. But maybe Quenneville has a point.
Take the three Vezina finalists for this season -- Jonathan Quick, Henrik Lundqvist and Pekka Rinne. Like Crawford, they broke in playing about half a season and they put up some decent numbers. Their second year, when asked to carry the load, the numbers were less impressive.
Quick went from a 2.48 goals-against average to 2.54, his save percentage went down from .914 to .907. Lundqvist from 2.24 to 2.34 and from .922 to .917. Rinne from 2.38 to 2.53 and .917 to .911. A more recent example is Detroit’s Jimmy Howard. His sophomore slump consisted of a goals-against average that went from 2.26 to a whopping 2.79 and a save percentage that dipped from .924 to .908.
Crawford’s numbers include a 2.30 goals-against average in 2010-2011 to 2.72 this year and his save percentage came down to .903 from .917.
The point of all this?
In all those cases -- and many others -- the goaltender in question rebounded to have a solid third season. The “sophomore slump” is not just a myth. Plenty of good current goaltenders had their dips, then came out of it better than ever. What’s to say Crawford won’t? His mental make-up isn’t off the charts, and his technique doesn’t need an overhaul.
In the middle of this past season, it was OK to ask for a new goalie for the stretch run. After all, who knows how long the window for the core group will be open, and it became obvious the Hawks weren’t going to win the Stanley Cup this year with Crawford in net. But now the season is over, and it’s time to focus on next year.
Though he dismissed the notion, there is something to be said about becoming the No. 1 goaltender, getting a new contract and potentially playing in more games than ever before -- at a position plenty would say is the most important one in sports.
“At every level it just gets magnified a little bit more,” Crawford said. “I experienced that this year. It’s something you learn from and try to get better from it.”
The Hawks will undoubtedly look at the history of the position and more than likely realize they would have to trade a core player to obtain an elite goaltender. Could they still have one in the making here?
No one knows, not yet.