IF you're going to try to get your name etched in a plaque on the Stanley Cup, as the Chicago Blackhawks will be starting tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final (no "s!"), then it doesn't hurt to have a guy in goal who's already got his name on one. Even if his name is Corey Crawford.
I'm not gonna lie here. I like Corey Crawford. I understand the crowd that thinks of him as the poster child for giant equipment and big stiff, oversized leg pads. I understand the disdain for the "Crawford Triangle" (the gaping space that used to be present between his knees and the meeting point of his previously-ok-but-now-non-conforming giant straight thigh rises, where pucks and stray small children from the crowd used to gather, safe from marauding forwards). I get that he throws in the occasional stinker now and then, but who doesn't? I just think he kinda gets a bum rap because he's a little stiff-looking, and the team in front of him is really, really good.
I also like him because he's evolved. He's not exactly smooth and precise like Carey Price (sigh, heart flutter), but by the same token he's no longer a stationary guy on his knees. I submit this sequence from the Hawks' Game 7 road victory over the Anaheim Ducks in the recent Western Conference Final for One Play Goalie Analysis. It shows what I like about Corey Crawford, and also an example of what many people don't.
(All images are screenshot from the NHL GameCenter App).
Late in the 3rd period, with Chicago leading 5-2, the Ducks' Ryan Kesler acquires the puck at the red line, powers through the neutral zone, and schools Hawks' Dman Johnny Oduya with a ridiculous forehand-backhand-forehand move that leaves Oduya face down on the ice.
Kesler is free at the top of the faceoff circle to Crawford's left and releases from his forehand.
Crawford makes the initial save, but the rebound darts to his right, onto the stick of net-driving pain-in-the-neck and opportunistic scorer Corey Perry.
Perry takes the puck on his forehand to Crawford's left. Crawford extends across for a highlight-reel glove save.
Although Anaheim does score a late power play goal, this save is a dagger to the vestigial hopes of the home crowd.
Much attention was paid at the time to Crawford's "athleticism." This is certainly an athletic play, but that belies the precision of his footwork and his puck tracking.
On Kesler's initial move, Crawford tracks the puck with small movements across the top left of his crease, maintaining his depth as he shuffles slightly. When Kesler releases the puck, he is square to the shot.
What happens next is the first of two moments that harken back to his strict butterfly days. The shot is low, and hits Crawford nearly dead center. Corey easily makes the save, but the puck pops out into a dangerous low slot position.
To Crow's credit, he immediately tracks the rebound, likely freaking out (just a little?!!) over where he's left it. Perry takes the puck, shows a little stick to Crawford, and Corey bites on the fake.
He defaults into a butterfly position as he anticipates the shot.
The younger Crawford might have fully committed to the butterfly here, followed by a desperation reach, and Perry's patience with the puck might well have paid off. Instead, as Perry moves further low and wide to his forehand, Crawford gathers himself and loads his right inside edge. Every developing goalie should burn this into their brains!!! This shows both confidence and patience (look at that open net!!), and is the key to his ability to make the second save.
Once his weight is engaged on his right inside edge, Crawford executes a powerful butterfly push to his left. He maintains excellent balance and forward lean, allowing him to extend his glove in front of the upper margin of his left leg pad, in addition to extending the pad itself.
There are those who feel that Crawford's glove can be targeted, as it can for many butterfly style goalies, but here his glove reaction is excellent. He keeps his glove forward, stops the shot, and keeps the puck in front of him. He doesn't catch the puck cleanly, but that's ok. Because he has executed a balanced move to his left, he is easily able to cover the very soft rebound. Even with the flash photography!
What's not to like about this sequence? The first save results in a really dangerous rebound, that's what, even though Crawford is square to the puck on a long, cleanly visible shot from the top of the faceoff circle.
What's to like? Just about everything else. I really like his tracking on the initial shot, as he makes subtle adjustments to follow Kesler's moves, and maintains his crease position without giving up depth. I love the push to his left post, with his chest square to allow forward glove extension as well as his balanced follow through that allows him to quickly smother the puck after blocking it down to the ice.
His footwork throughout the whole sequence is solid, including the initial shot and save, which is textbook butterfly blocking positioning.
I could maybe ding him for dropping into an early butterfly when Perry first acquires the rebound, but that's his thing. At least he's playing to his strengths. And I've got to be honest, even if some would rather he stay on his skates when Perry first gets the rebound, I absolutely love his footwork into and out of that quick little butterfly!
Left inside edge push out:
Square on both skates:
Patiently load right inside edge:
Powerful butterfly push to the left:
His recovery takes him to the corner of the crease, overlapping the post, totally in control. Nice!
Now don't go all crazy on me. I'm sure Jonathan Quick does this kind of stuff getting out of his car and into Starbucks every morning, but this is pretty nifty from Crawford, a guy who has previously been compared - unfavorably - to an armoire.
I'm not suggesting that Corey Crawford supplant Jacques Plante or Ken Dryden in the Hall of Fame or anything like that, just based on this one save sequence. But the Dude can play.
If you need more, Little Sister Goalie thinks he looks like a teddy bear, so he's got that going for him. That, and his name on the Stanley Cup.