Here we go again. Maybe.
It wouldn’t be winter in Chicago if the Blackhawks didn’t have goalie issues. (Let’s try not to call it controversy at this point.) There is no controversy when the back-up starts two-out-of three, is there?
“You look at all the teams in the league,” Joel Quenneville said after announcing Ray Emery would start Thursday on Long Island. “Every goalie that isn’t a starter gets a chance for a couple games in a row. Sometimes even more…so over the course of the season you’ll see the other guys get multiple starts.”
No doubt about that, but we’ve seen this act before -- twice in fact. Two years ago, Cristobal Huet lost his starting job to Antti Niemi and last year it didn’t take long for Marty Turco to be sitting behind Corey Crawford. Now Crawford is having his struggles of late.
“It seems like it’s been up and down,” Crawford said after practice Wednesday. “Every second game seems to be a rough one for me. Just trying to work hard and battle through it. It’s the only way I see getting out of it.”
Crawford is tied for sixth in the league with 12 wins but that’s where the numbers stop looking good. He’s 33rd out of 42 in goals-against average at 3.00. His save percentage is lower, 37th, at .896.
“Technically things have been fine,” Crawford said. “It seems like I’m not making big saves night in and night out. There’s a couple goals getting by me instead of making those big saves every night.”
Crawford hit the nail on the head. He hasn’t bailed out his defense like he did at times a year ago. Players are going to make mistakes, they need that last line of defense to help them out. Crawford did it last year just as Niemi did it the year before. And everyone knows the Hawks’ defense has made its share of mistakes this season.
Quenneville was asked if the team is just playing better in front of Emery right now or if that was the case in years past.
“It’s tough to measure the difference and I don’t think we’ve been different in front of a particular goalie or not,” he said. “Maybe over time, maybe there is a pattern but I haven’t noticed anything.”
He said Niemi earned his chance just as Crawford did a season ago. But players are human, and if they think they can’t make a mistake and get bailed out, they’ll play with a different confidence. Was it a coincidence the Hawks played better after Crawford was pulled Monday night against Phoenix? Emery was barely tested after Crawford was under siege for over a period.
“That happens from time to time,” Crawford said. “Teams get that when you change goalies like that sometimes. It was good to get a point out of that [game].”
He’s probably right but the fact remains the defense has hung Crawford out to dry and he hasn’t bailed them out enough.
“It’s bothering me,” he said. “I don’t like losing. I don’t like being pulled. It’s frustrating. The worst thing I could do is start thinking about it too much and start putting everything on my shoulders. I just have to keep doing what I’m doing my whole career.”
Quenneville indicated goalie coach Stephan Waite would work with Crawford on some issues over the coming days. It’s a perfect time to do it, the Hawks have a light schedule right now. Waite and Crawford were both on the ice early Wednesday running goalie drills.
“I’m still confident,” Crawford said. “I still think I can do the job. I’m not worried.”
Yes, but is Quenneville? For now, the Hawks coach is making the case for Emery while Crawford works on his game.
“He’s gotten points in every game he’s played except the one that was the toughest game for our team the whole year,” Quenneville stated. “He’s doing something well.”
Quenneville doesn’t announce anything about his goaltender past the next game so Thursday it’s Emery, after that, it’s anyone’s guess.
“We have ideas how we forecast the next little scheduling but we can change at a moment’s notice,” he said.
In Chicago, change is always the constant in goal.
• Dave Bolland practiced with his team for the first time in a while. He’s been nursing a leg injury which has hampered him some in games.
“It’s getting better,” Bolland said. “Just keep it going forward from here on in..It still hurts a bit during games and practices…It does affect the sharpness [of his game].”
• Quenneville didn’t let on which way he was leaning for Thursday’s game regarding his third defensive pair. Steve Montador and Sean O’Donnell were benched for part of the game on Friday in St. Louis and were on the ice for the Coyotes’ first goal on Monday.
“I know that going into tomorrow’s [Thursday’s] game we’re going to look at our D [defense],” Quenneville said.” We’re getting points and sometimes don’t want to mix with the lineup.”