By: Alex Patt
There is no doubt the Chicago Blackhawks have one of the best goaltending tandems on paper in the NHL. Corey Crawford has been rock solid and key to multiple Stanley Cups runs over the years, with Robin Lehner coming in after spending last year Long Island where he was a Jennings Trophy winner and was third in the Vezina Trophy voting.
When Lehner was signed as a free agent, he created a conversation among Hawks fans as to how the goaltenders were going to split time. Was Lehner replacing Crawford as starter? Is Lehner a safety net? Crawford dealt with the concussions issues the past several years which caused him to miss a lot of time.
From 2012 – 2017 (not counting the lockout shortened season in 2013) Crawford had averaged 57 games played in per-season. He played in a total of 67 games the past two seasons. It seems unrealistic to expect Crawford to start in 55+ games a season from here on out.
Usually a backup goaltender starts 25-ish games a season, but there might not even be a backup under these circumstances. To allow Crawford and Lehner, both of whom have multiple years of experience as starters, to be used in roles they are capable of, they can be a two-headed monster. In other words, split time.
If Crawford can play a sufficient number of games and stay healthy while getting more rest than years past with Lehner playing every other night, it can see the full potential of this goalie tandem realized. Obviously it will not be a literal 41-41 game split, but they can play roughly the same games. Give Crawford the “starting” job and hope you can get roughly 45-48 games from him with Lehner taking the rest. If Crawford does struggle with injuries or other issues, Lehner can take the starting gig with little concern.
Coach Jeremy Colliton spent most of last year starting an aging Cam Ward and an inexperienced Colin Delia in goal when Crawford was out. Having and experienced goaltender in his prime in Lehner to play next to him can make a big difference. Especially if they want to go to the playoffs this season.
There is going to be a lot of pressure on these goaltenders this year. With a defense that still does not shape up to be great (though hopefully improved) there will be nights where they will have to make 45+ saves to steal a win. If these two guys play like their normal selves and stay healthy then there is another reason to be a bit more optimistic about the Blackhawks this year.