Corey Crawford’s ability to make goaltending look easy sets him apart

SHARE Corey Crawford’s ability to make goaltending look easy sets him apart
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Corey Crawford keeps his eyes on the puck as Nashville’s Austin Watson prepared to shoot during a game on Oct. 14 at the United Center (Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS — The art of goaltending is lost on the average fan — and even on the average player. The nuances of the position and the mechanics involved — reverse VH, T-push, cushioning, protecting the six-hole — are solely the purview of goalies and goalie coaches.

To the untrained eye, a great goalie is one who makes spectacular stops, whether it’s Dominik Hasek flopping around in the crease, Jonathan Quick splayed out and striking like a cobra or Scott Darling using every inch of his 6-6 frame to go from post to post on a backdoor play.

The Blackhawks’ Corey Crawford doesn’t do a lot of that highlight-reel stuff. And it’s what has made him one of the best goalies in the league.

‘‘He’s always square,’’ Hawks backup goalie Anton Forsberg said. ‘‘Most of the time, he doesn’t have to be making a lot of desperation saves because the puck just hits his body. Other guys might have a lot of unbelievable saves, but he doesn’t have to make those saves because he’s always in the right position. He just makes it look easy.’’

Crawford is off to another tremendous start, leading all No. 1 goalies in save percentage at .945 through seven games. He has been the Hawks’ best player so far. And he has had to be because the Hawks — for years one of the top shot-suppression teams in the league — have turned Crawford’s crease into a shooting gallery.

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The Hawks have given up a staggering 35.9 shots per game through their first nine games. Only the Lightning and Panthers are allowing more. But while faster opponents are firing at will at Crawford, they haven’t been able to do much with all those shots.

In seven starts, Crawford has allowed 13 goals. The Hawks have the highest PDO — a metric that adds save percentage and shooting percentage and essentially quantifies how lucky a team has been — in the league. But between Crawford’s high-end ability to read the game and his insatiable quest to master the minutiae of playing goal — his performance doesn’t feel terribly unsustainable.

After all, Crawford had a similar start last season and carried it into December before appendicitis derailed him.

‘‘I don’t know what stands out because it just seems like it’s business as usual for him,’’ captain Jonathan Toews said. ‘‘Some of those nights where we don’t play so hot, we can get outshot 40-some to 25, and we’re still in the game somehow. He’s a huge part of that.’’

When Crawford is on a roll, he frequently talks about how he’s seeing the puck well. Forsberg said it’s that ability to read the play and anticipate where the puck will come from that sets Crawford apart. It’s an innate ability Crawford seems to have, but it’s supplemented by relentless studying and skull sessions with Forsberg and goalie coach Jimmy Waite.

Crawford is the hockey equivalent of a policy wonk, always digging deeper into the little details that can make a good goalie great.

‘‘You want to get yourself in that position so that your body is in the right spot to give you the best chance to make a save,’’ Crawford said. ‘‘The more body you have in front of each play, the better chance you have, right? But it’s also reading the play and getting a feel for what a guy is going to do, where the play is developing, where the play is going, to make sure you’re in a better position.’’

Because if you know where the play is going, you can keep the opponent off the scoreboard — even if it means keeping yourself off the highlight reel.

‘‘You don’t want to be moving around all the time; you don’t want to be sprawling out all the time,’’ Crawford said with a shrug. ‘‘Usually when that happens, it’s because you’re late or they just made a great play that you didn’t read.’’

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com


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