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Column: Corey Crawford Taking a Run at the Vezina Trophy

17 January 2016: Chicago Blackhawks Goalie Corey Crawford (50) [3760] in action during a game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center, in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

I have always been quick to compare Chicago Blackhawks netminder Corey Crawford to former Detroit Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood. The contrast has always made a ton of sense for a handful of reasons.

They both play the most demanding position in the sport — maybe in all of sports — and have done so in the most pressure-packed of situations. Dominik Hasek is the one who was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014, but it was Osgood who saved his bacon during Detroit’s 2007-08 Stanley Cup run.

You won’t hear many hockey historians discussing how the unassuming Osgood kept of the generation’s top netminders on the bench in the playoffs of that season. You will (rightfully) hear about how Hasek revolutionized the position and did things no one thought possible. The point isn’t to say that Osgood was better than Hasek, but the former Red Wings netminder rarely received the credit he deserved.

He won the big games quietly, and with the support of an outstanding team in front of him. That should sound familiar to ‘Hawks fans, who have been able to watch Crawford win Stanley Cups without having to heap a ton of praise on his plate. That happens when your team also features the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and so on.

The Crawford-Osgood comparison is starting to make a lot less sense as time goes by though, as Crawford is evolving into a legitimate Vezina Trophy candidate. Osgood never posted a save percentage higher than .914 as an actual starter. Not bad by any means, but that’s where the “he played behind incredible teams” argument shines through.

Crawford, on the other hand, is pushing Braden Holtby to be the front-runner for this year’s Vezina. The man they call “Crow” has typically been steady since taking over as the starter in 2010-11, but he’s piecing together a special season right now. No other goalie has started more games than him. Only Holtby has won more frequently than Crawford, but that gap is closing as the Blackhawks have been shredding the NHL lately.

No one besides Craig Anderson has faced more shots than Crawford, and he leads the league in shutouts as well. Tack on a save percentage that is nearly inside of the top-five — the five netminders ahead of him have all played significantly fewer games — and you’ll start to see just how good Crawford has been in 2015-16. His numbers look even better when you realize he’s one of only four goalies who have faced more than 1,000 shots this season so far.

Heading into tonight’s game against the Nashville Predators, the 31-year-old is looking to set a personal best for most consecutive victories.

A win would give him nine straight wins, and Crawford hasn’t lost since November 27. That’s a remarkable run for a netminder who doesn’t see his name tossed around along with the league’s best.

Pekka Rinne made the NHL All-Star game despite sporting the 41st-best save percentage. Ask pundits to name their top-five goalies from around the league, and you’ll likely hear Rinne’s name come up a handful of times despite how bad he has been this season. One can argue that the All-Star contest is voted for by fans and isn’t an indicator of actual success, but Crawford simply doesn’t have the same reputation as a Rinne or Henrik Lundqvist.

How many times would you hear Crawford’s name though? Journey outside of the friendly confines of the United Center, where fans are plenty familiar with what the Montreal native brings to the table, and you’ll have a hard time finding anyone who considers him elite. Yes, the dirty E-word that always seems to ruffle analysts’ feathers.

Goalie analysis has come a long way over the last few seasons. Publications like InGoalMag.com have given us new and interesting ways to examine netminders and determine whether or not they are successful. We can look at high-danger saves to figure out how good a goalie is at preventing goals from the Royal Road. We can adjust save percentage to include just five-on-five play, shielding the goalie from any damage that was done while killing penalties.

Despite all of these advances, netminders still have one job to do. That’s win hockey games. In that regard, only five players have secured more victories than Crawford since 2010-11. Only two active goalies — Cory Schneider and Tuukka Rask — have produced more quality starts. Now the Blackhawks backstop is starting to earn his share of the spotlight by performing the most valuable task left up to a netminder, and that’s win.

Maybe putting Crawford next to Osgood in the good-but-not-great category would have made sense coming into the season. He’s proven just how valuable he is to the ‘Hawks over the last few months though, and is in prime position to challenge for some hardware once the year comes to a close.

 

Statistics appear courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com and are accurate through games played on January 18.

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