Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman gave his netminders, and his coach, a vote of confidence on Monday, claiming that his starting goalies — Ray Emery and Corey Crawford — are not the problem. Crawford has started only two games in the month of February, allowing 10 goals in those contests while Emery has allowed at least three in each of his four appearances.
So why are these two goalies not on a shorter leash?
For one, Bowman believes that his top players need to be better. And they do. Marian Hossa has no points in six games, Jonathan Toews has two assists in his last seven. Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane have each been productive but they play together making this Blackhawks team a one-trick pony. On Saturday night, when both Sharp and Kane were held scoreless, so were the Hawks.
The Blackhawks have dropped off so badly that they went from a above average team offensively to just treading water. If you take the team’s overall corsi, a statistic defined as the number of shots directed towards the net opposed to directed at your net, then the team dropped from a season-long average of 54.4 — which is fantastic — to just 50.3. In other words, they are facing more chances than before and not reacting well to the increased adversity.
A good offense in this case created a good defense as the Blackhawks were able to skate by with a blue line that simply has not looked that good. Duncan Keith still does not look like the Norris Trophy winner of old while Brent Seabrook has been relied on perhaps too much despite playing at below 100 percent. Their lack of elite play put excess pressure on Niklas Hjalmarsson, Nick Leddy, Steve Montador and Sean O’Donnell– all of which have looked out of place for stretches in the season.
All of these factors have led to Emery and Crawford facing more shots than they have all season. Crawford, who averages around 26 shots faced per game has seen over that number in three of his last four starts. Similarly, Emery has faced 27. 28 and 32 respectively after averaging 24 over the year. With increased shots, a weaker defense and an overall sense of losing, can you blame these two starting goalies for faltering?
No, you can’t, which is why Bowman has not made any panic moves in order to get his team going. What he needs is primary goal scoring from Toews, Sharp, Kane and Hossa while allowing the other eight forwards to push the puck towards the net. Failure to do this could result in more losing, and possibly missing the playoffs just two seasons after winning the Stanley Cup.
Whether this team can actually elevate their game is another story. An aging supporting cast with Jamal Mayers, Andrew Brunette looking every bit their age while Michael Frolik and Bryan Bickell are snakebit has certainly hurt more than helped. Nevertheless, it is pretty hard to bet against a team with such a talented core.
Final thought: This Blackhawks team, like last year, likely squeaks into the playoffs as currently comprised.
All advanced stats provided by behindthenet.ca and timeonice.com. If you are interested in learning more about the vast world of #fancystats, some good sites are Arctic Ice Hockey, Russian Machine Never Breaks, The Nations Blogs and The Driving Play