Consistency in net slipping for Crawford

Ignore the fact Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford leads the NHL with 17 wins.

Victories matter from a team standpoint, but wins are a small piece to the puzzle of evaluating how Crawford has done so far this season.

No one can deny Crawford’s impact last season. He gave the Blackhawks a chance to win in almost every regular-season game he started, and he was lights out in the playoffs and arguably should have been the Conn Smythe Trophy winner.

Crawford was rewarded for his play in the offseason with a six-year, $36 million contract extension that runs through the 2019-20 season. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman put to rest who would be the team’s goaltender of the future.

With Crawford’s new contract and coming off the most impressive season in his career, expectations were placed at a high level for him entering the 2013-14 season. The Blackhawks were paying him to be an elite goaltender and match or exceed what he did last season. So far, the numbers indicate Crawford hasn’t been able to do that.

Consistency was what distinguished Crawford last season. He talked about bringing a new focus to the net and proved that by giving his team an opportunity to win in nearly every start.

An advanced stat that has become a regular form of judging a goaltender’s consistency is Quality Starts. A Quality Start is marked when a goaltender has a .917 save percentage or higher or has at least a .885 save percentage along with allowing two goals or less. There is also a statistic called a Really Bad Start, which is defined by a goaltender having a save percentage less than .850.

Crawford's success last season was telling in these statistics last season. He had 20 Quality Starts and five Really Bad Starts in 28 regular-season games. He was even more consistent in the playoffs and had 20 Quality Starts and one Really Bad Start in 24 games.

Crawford hasn’t been able to find that consistency this season. His Quality Start percentage has dropped from .714 last season to .542 this season. Of his 24 starts this season, he’s had 13 Quality Starts and the Blackhawks have a 11-0-2 record in those games. He’s also had five Really Bad Starts and the team is 1-4-0 in those games. In his past 10 starts, he’s had four Quality Starts and four Really Bad Starts. He's had back-to-back Really Bad Starts leading into Sunday's game against the Florida Panthers.

Although Crawford’s numbers have declined, he hasn’t dropped to where he was in the 2011-12 season when he had a 50.9 Quality Start percentage. He had 28 Quality Starts and 12 Really Bad Starts in 55 starts during that season.

Crawford’s ups and downs this season can also be seen in his even-strength save percentage. While the Blackhawks have had their struggles on the penalty kill and some of that may have to do with Crawford, who has a .784 save percentage against power plays, how goaltenders perform at even strength is a fairer way to assess them.

A season ago, Crawford was among the league’s top goaltenders at even strength. He stopped 594 of 636 shots at even strength and was eighth in the NHL (minimum 20 games) with a .934 even-strength save percentage. This season he has saved 520 of 562 shots and is 16th (minimum 10 games) with a .925 save percentage.

Add in the penalty-killing woes and Crawford’s overall numbers have taken a hit this season, as well. Overall, he has given up 62 goals on 663 shots, ranks 21st in the league (minimum 10 games) with a 2.49 goals-against average and 28th with a .906 save percentage.

There have been some questions whether Crawford has been overworked early in the season. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville dismissed that on Friday.

“I don’t know if he’s played that much more than other years,” Quenneville said. “We’ll see how it all plays out as the season goes along, but the thought process initially was he’d play in that 60[-game] range.”

Quenneville is right. Crawford has played a lot, but not more than anyone else. He is tied for first with 26 games played, and six goaltenders have played at least 24 games. He is tied for fifth with 24 starts.

Quenneville also voiced his support of Crawford. Crawford has shown Quenneville this season he can still be relied upon to be a top-tier goaltender. Quenneville just hopes to see more of it as the season moves on.

“I thought he’s had two really good stretches -- I think that [recent] road trip and the start of the season,” Quenneville said. “I think that’s it’s there. It’s just finding that consistency. That’s what we’re looking for.”