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Corey Crawford: Ice, not pads, is the key to increased scoring

Corey Crawford climbs into the bench after he was pulled during the third period of last Friday's game in Washington. (AP Photo)

BOSTON — Corey Crawford wore the new slimmed-down goalie pants that will become mandatory on Feb. 4 — part of the NHL’s latest effort to increase scoring — during the Blackhawks’ game against Washington last Friday.

He gave up five goals and was replaced by Scott Darling in the third period.

“Tough one to try them out in,” Crawford said with a laugh. “I wore them in practice, too. They’re definitely thinner. It’s not going to make a huge difference, but there are some little tweaks to be done with the equipment.”

The goalies are an easy target when trying to figure out how to goose scoring in a league that has seen save percentage increase steadily from .873 percent in 1983-84 to .915 percent this season, matching last season’s all-time high. Streamlining goalie pads is the simplest solution.

But Crawford had a different, and compelling, idea on how to increase both scoring, and the quality of play.

“I’ve always thought the real issue isn’t goalie equipment,” he said. “The issue is ice. If you can make ice like the way it is in Colorado, the way it is in Washington, Edmonton — you make the conditions like that for every game in every rink, guys are going to score. … Look at the Winter Classic, where plays are so much harder to come by. Guys are struggling with the puck on the ice, where they have to get their head down, to make sure the puck’s [settled] down. If those top players have their heads up, and don’t have to worry about where the puck’s going to be … it’s a massive difference. Massive difference between battling with the puck and making sure it’s going to be on the ice, and just playing.”

Indeed, if you watch a game in Edmonton vs. a game in, say, Florida, passes are crisper, play is cleaner, and the game is faster. The United Center, like many high-traffic, multi-purpose arenas, has been long derided for its ice quality. But Crawford said it’s significantly better now, and is among the “top third” in the league.

“I don’t care how big your equipment is, if you can’t react to it, you’re not going to stop it, anyway,” Crawford said. “Like, how fast was that game in Colorado (a 6-4 Hawks win)? How fun was that game to watch? That was a fast game. You watch a game where the ice is just horse[bleep] — it makes a huge difference. It’s way more fun to watch.”

Crawford has done his own part to increase scoring lately, with a middling .903 save percentage since missing three weeks following an appendectomy on Dec. 3 — that’s tied for 24th in the league in that span. Before the surgery, Crawford’s save percentage was a sparkling .927 in 20 games. Crawford doesn’t believe there are any lingering effects from the appendectomy, but admitted he’s not seeing the puck as well as he was earlier in the season.

“Every guy goes through it,” he said. “There’s not one goalie in the league, in history, that’s ever gone through a full season without some sort of down [stretch] during the year. It’s almost impossible to do that. But we’re also winning games, too.… It’s funny how the game works. Sometimes you feel great, you’re playing great, and you lose 2-1, or 1-0. And then there are other games where maybe you don’t feel as well or you’re not seeing the puck as well, and you win 6-5 to 5-4.”

Scott Darling will get the start Friday at Boston, but that’s largely because Joel Quenneville wants to get everybody in while the players’ fathers are on the road trip this week. Without any back-to-back sets until Feb. 10-11, Darling had to get in at some point.

Quenneville’s not worried about Crawford, either. He also pointed out that — slimmed-down goalie pants or not — there have been a lot of eye-popping scores around the league over the last few days, with the Penguins winning 8-7, the Stars winning 7-6, the Hawks and Senators winning 6-4, and the Red Wings winning 6-5.

“Everybody has stretches where you’re on top of your game to a different level and you’re seeing the puck, and then you have stretches where they find a way in,” Quenneville said. “We all feel very comfortable that [Crawford] will be able to get back to being confident and doing this thing.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus