By Adam Hess
The Blackhawks have been very reliant on a few players for a large portion of this season. For much of the season’s first half they were a one-line team, counting on the line of Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov, and Patrick Kane to do the majority of the team’s offensive production.
However, the player that the Blackhawks have relied upon the most this season, the player that has been by my estimation their best player this season, is goaltender Corey Crawford.
Crawford’s play this season has been nothing short of absolutely stellar in his 41 games played this year. Crawford ranks first in the NHL in shutouts with 7, second in wins with 28, third in save percentage with a .932, and seventh in goals against average with a 2.08.
That save percentage is even more impressive when you consider that the two players ahead of Crawford, Toronto’s James Reimer and Philadelphia’s Michael Neurvirth, have just eight and 10 wins, respectfully.
Crawford’s strong goaltending play was on its fullest display during Chicago’s recent 12-game win streak. Crow started in four of the last five games of the streak, and in those four wins he had three games with 38 or more saves. The win streak also featured a personal nine-game winning for Chicago’s star net-minder.
My earlier claim that Crawford has been the team’s best player may seem a bit controversial, especially due to way that Patrick Kane has torn through the NHL this season. But Crawford’s play has been more important to the team’s success than Kane’s incredible production.
Kane’s offense has certainly been important for Chicago, and he in unequivocally the best player in the NHL this season, He is going to run away with the Hart Trophy, and his play has deemed him worthy of that.
But Crow’s fantastic goaltending has kept the Blackhawks in many games and won them several others. He has been solely responsible for a good portion of the Chicago wins this season, and his impressive statistics back up his clearly strong play.
However, despite all of those impressive stats and his strong play, Crawford wasn’t listed on the mid-season Vezina Trophy watches from either NHL.com or SBNation. Washington’s Braden Holtby was listed as the favorite by both sites, which is deserved as Holtby has been the best goalie in the NHL this season. But Crawford not being included even on the watch lists is completely ridiculous.
Crawford’s play has often discounted in his career because he plays behind the best team the NHL has seen in the last decade. Earlier in his career, when he was streaky and not as technically sound, that argument may have been a bit more valid.
This season, however, the Blackhawks have benefited immensely more from Crawford’s play than vice versa.