Crawford's improved play has silenced critics

Crawford's improved play has silenced critics

March 4, 2013, 11:30 am
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I don’t know what you can say. Phenomenal.
—Viktor Stalberg on Crawford's play

The questions surrounding Corey Crawford this offseason were intense.

Could he get his game back? Is he good enough to be a No. 1 goaltender? Why are the Blackhawks sticking with him?

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The pressure was enormous. The first stumble Crawford made out of the gate, the first bad goal he let in, it was going to get even worse. But all of that never happened. With all the expectations put on him to start this season, Crawford has lived up to all of them.

Blackhawks goaltending had to improve overall in 2012-13, but nobody had the onus on him like Crawford. One season after recording lackluster numbers, however, Crawford is producing his best. On Monday morning, Crawford led all NHL goaltenders in goals-against average (1.41) and was second overall in save percentage (9.45). It’s a far cry from 2011-12, when Crawford was 33rd in GAA (2.72) and 36th in save percentage (.903). Coupled with Ray Emery’s great work and the Blackhawks have the best goaltending tandem in the league.

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And as far as Crawford goes, his numbers have left his critics mute and the Blackhawks thrilled.

“I don’t know what you can say. Phenomenal,” forward Viktor Stalberg said of Crawford. “That’s a huge part of our streak here. It seems, overall, we’re more sound. We’re not giving up as many Grade-A chances as in the past. And when (Crawford) sees the pucks, he’s going to make the stops.”

Marian Hossa said Crawford’s been “unbelievable.”

“He made three highlight saves (against Detroit on Sunday) that were unreal,” Hossa said of the Blackhawks’ 2-1 shootout victory against the Wings. “He was so strong in the net. But that’s just not today, it’s been the whole year. That’s great for our team.”

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Crawford knew he’d have to answer for last season, and do it immediately. He altered his pregame preparation this season; instead of playing a little soccer with the guys, Crawford now finds a quiet place, stretches and focuses on the game. But Crawford’s renaissance goes beyond a pregame ritual. His positioning is noticeably improved. The rare times he’s allowed a bad goal, he’s shrugged it off quickly. He’s been quicker, more square in the net, more focused.

“I’m just watching the puck the whole game. I’m just able to bear down, focus on the little things on the sides of the net, making sure not to give up those bad goals that change momentum,” Crawford said. “I’ve been feeling good so far.”

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Injuries haven’t hampered him once he’s returned, either. Crawford missed about two weeks with what’s believed to be a concussion. He recorded a shutout his first game back from that. He suffered a more mysterious upper-body injury on Thursday, when he had to leave after one period against the St. Louis Blues. He returned Sunday vs. Detroit, stopping 32-of-33.

Crawford has answered the questions that surrounded him prior to this season. He got his game back. He’s certainly No. 1-goaltender worthy. The Blackhawks believed he could rebound; he’s proven them right.

“I felt great at times last year,” Crawford said. “I just think consistency has been there this year.”