As Blackhawks' Injuries Mount, So Does Pressure On Goaltending

By Randy Holt

You don’t even need to look at the numbers to know that Corey Crawford is having a rough year.

After a spectacular rookie campaign, including a playoff series that he went all Tim Thomas on the Vancouver Canucks, Corey Crawford was rewarded with a new contract this summer to make him the franchise goaltender. Finally, some stability between the pipes. Right?

Not so right. In 2010-11, Crawford made a living off of stealing games, even when the Hawks had no business being in them. He won 33 of his 55 starts, stole the starting job from Marty Turco, helped the Hawks barely reach the postseason, and held the team in their playoff series, as they nearly came back from a 3-0 deficit.

But that was last season. Crawford has had his struggles in 2011-2012 and they are happening far too often. We have yet to see Crawford play as confident as he was last year and piece together a full 60 minutes of strong play in the crease. Sure, you can make the argument that the team hasn’t always been top notch in front of him, but we saw last year that it doesn’t always have to be that way for Crawford to be successful.

The Blackhawks are the only team in the NHL without a shutout. That tells you pretty much everything you need to know right there. Crawford’s goals-against average is at a 2.88, which is alright, and his save percentage is just .902. But just watch one game and you can see his confidence isn’t there. He’s giving up soft goals at a startling rate and has already been pulled in favor of Ray Emery multiple times, including on Saturday against the Nashville Predators.

It’s Emery that the Hawks could turn to to bring some stability to the spot if Crawford can’t get it done in their last game before the All Star break, on Tuesday against Nashville.

The decision to keep Emery was scrutinized by many fans, but the Hawks chose to go with the veteran behind Crawford and  it has paid off. He’s been solid in relief of Crawford, and was downright dominant in the month of December. Emery attempted to ignite a goalie controversy while allowing more than two goals just twice in his seven starts for the month.

But is he capable of holding up for a playoff run, if the Hawks should choose to go in his direction? A decision like that would require a lot more struggling from Crawford, but it is in the back of everyone’s mind.

The Blackhawks are dealing with injury issues right now. Patrick Sharp is out until at least, hopefully, the beginning of the Western Canada portion of their nine-game road trip. Jonathan Toews is day-to-day and will miss Tuesday’s game at Nashville. That’s a whole lot of offense the Hawks are missing out on.

That means that the pressure is going to be the defensive side to keep even more pucks out of the net, which is easier said than done with this group. Even with the inconsistent play of the guys on the blue line, not named Duncan Keith or Brent Seabrook, the Hawks are going to be turning to Crawford and/or Emery for success.

Crawford has a huge opportunity to grab some confidence heading into the All Star break on Tuesday. He’s getting his second consecutive start against the Preds, after being pulled on Saturday. If he should falter again, it will be interesting to see how the Blackhawks shape up moving forward.

But either way, whether it’s Crawford or Emery, the pressure is going to start mounting on the guy between the pipes not only because of injuries to key offensive guys, but as we head into the home stretch before the postseason, and the wins get tougher to come by.

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