- Craig Custance
It's too bad, really. Corey Crawford was the Chicago Blackhawks' best player in their Game 7 loss to the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the playoffs last spring. He turned in 65:22 of nearly flawless goaltending, stopping 38 shots. Yet, he hasn't gone back to watch the tape. Not once.
Instead, the only shot he has seen repeatedly is Alex Burrows' overtime game winner, which he saw when highlights were shown back home during the summer.
But that game is our lasting memory of Crawford -- a young goalie playing under the highest of pressure and responding with one of the best performances of his career.
"I took a lot from that, the experience and everything," Crawford said. "It wasn't quite the result we're looking for. It was a lot of fun but I'm moving on. I'm looking forward to this season."
It's a tough act to follow. Crawford seized the starting goalie job away from Marty Turco last season, finishing the year with a 33-18-6 record, .917 save percentage and 2.33 goals-against average. He was even better in the playoffs, where he finished with a .927 save percentage and 2.21 GAA.
He was great under pressure in the spring but now he faces a more constant pressure. Crawford signed a three-year contract worth $8 million in May, and his success will no longer be a pleasant surprise in Chicago. The Blackhawks are counting on it.
"It does feel a little bit different, I'm not going to lie," Crawford said. "It's a different kind of pressure. Last year it was more to make the team. This year it's to prove to everyone I'm still the guy. I'm No. 1. You almost have to work harder to stay there."
Goalies will tell you that the challenge when expectations rise is to stay within your game. Control what can be controlled and not go out and try to make outstanding saves. Crawford has job security and a new contract, which should help ease the pressure to try and overperform but he also has to deal with heightened expectations.
That may be his biggest challenge moving forward.
"Sometimes you want something so bad and want to prove something so much, it can overwhelm you and take you off your game," said Turco, who added that he'd stack Crawford's season last year up against any goalie's in the NHL. "If he can continue to be patient and wait for the game to come to him, he'll be fine. He's learned to be patient and react well."
• Last season, Patrick O'Sullivan bounced around between the AHL, the Carolina Hurricanes and Minnesota Wild, scoring just two goals in 31 NHL games. He's a player who has shown flashes of offensive skill but not enough to earn consistent playing time in the NHL. This summer, he quietly signed a two-way deal with the Phoenix Coyotes and is suddenly making a case for a roster spot. Through four preseason games, O'Sullivan had two goals and four assists. His six preseason points puts him among the NHL's leaders. A guy not exactly known for his defense may actually be a fit for Dave Tippett in the desert. "It's about figuring out all the components of his game," said his agent, Matt Keator.
• I found Glen Sather's comments at the Winter Classic announcement about his franchise defenseman Marc Staal a little puzzling. He said he's not concerned "at all" about Staal's headaches even though he admitted not knowing exactly what the source of the headaches was. To me, that's concerning. Staal is feeling better but not at the level he needs to be to play. He's planning to see another neurologist and the possibility he's not ready for the start of the season remains real. If we've learned anything from Katie Baker's outstanding timeline of the Sidney Crosby concussion recovery, it's to be suspicious of anyone downplaying the effects of a concussion.
• Injuries in Florida and Columbus may mean those two franchises could be looking for goalie help if they can't find it internally. Panthers backup Scott Clemmensen had minor knee surgery that is expected to sideline him for a month. Columbus backup Mark Dekanich may miss a month as well while recovering from a high ankle sprain. Meanwhile, free-agent goalie Marty Turco continues to train with the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds in hopes of getting a call from a team looking for veteran help in goal. He said he doesn't anticipate hearing anything from teams in the next few weeks "unless something drastic happens." He finished last season 11-11-3 with an .897 save percentage and handled the promotion of Crawford with absolute class. He's not giving up hope of another shot in the NHL. "I'll be ready if something happens," he said.
• James Mirtle at the Globe and Mail recently wrote a story I'd been meaning to dive into. His story "The Moneypuck revolution" examines the use of advanced statistics in building and evaluating NHL rosters. The issue was brought up again on Wednesday night on Twitter by agent Allan Walsh, who shared how he uses analytics to determine a player's value. He also shared some of the limitations. There's still growth to be made in this area in hockey front offices but so much of what makes a hockey team successful doesn't show up on paper. "Our game isn't at the Moneyball level yet," Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi said. "But there are certainly a lot of things we can look at that would have taken you a year to find 15 years ago."
• Brendan Shanahan has had a few slam-dunk suspensions in the preseason, but Brendan Smith's hit on Ben Smith (Adam Jahns' blog has a good breakdown of reaction and video) will call into question the responsibility of the puck carrier. At least that was Mike Babcock's thought process after the game. It certainly looks like a hit worthy of suspension, and Ben Smith may have a concussion as a result. But after watching the replay many times, Babcock wondered if all the blame lies on his young defenseman. "Is there any responsibility on the puck carrier, toe-dragging, sliding sideways, to look after himself?" Babcock said to reporters. "Is there or no? It doesn't appear like there is anymore. I'm not saying our guy isn't guilty, because the shoulder hit his head. You better not put yourself in those situations is what I would say."