It goes without saying that any team who loses their starting goalie is prone to ultimate devastation. It’s not uncommon to see a subtle, yet noticeable decline in a team’s overall performance when the one they rely on most in the blue paint is not where they should be. But there are few teams whose fate lies so delicately in the hands of their goalie as the Chicago Blackhawks.
Corey Crawford’s ambiguous disappearance towards the end of December left Chicago fans concerned for the wellbeing of one of their best players, and understandably fearful for the future of their season. The recent news that their goalie could be out for the remainder of the back half of the season did nothing for those uneasy emotions but intensify them deeply.
There is a common misconception that a team with as much talent at the forefront as the Chicago Blackhawks should be able to rally together as one for the sake of their fallen—not to mention, highest-ranking—soldier. But even while Crawford was in net, the season thusfar has showcased inconsistencies in offensive efforts and a first line of defense that is very touch-and-go in front of their net. Backup goaltenders Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass are undoubtedly getting a feel for the weight Crawford bears between the posts. Their win against the Winnipeg Jets last week was all thanks to Glass, a 31-save contest and a close game offensively. The home team were only able to put up two goals in order to squeak out a win against their top-of-the-division opponents. When they’re not underproducing, they’re overproducing, and either way the tables turn, they struggle to find consistency in front of their goalie.
As if the absence of their net-minding saving grace was not enough, there’s another element that looms above their heads, one that keeps them from truly reaching their fullest potential. Since their championship title in 2015, the Blackhawks have not seen an inkling of playoff success. They desperately clawed their way to a game seven against the St. Louis Blues in 2016 before falling to their rivaled foes, and they trudged their way through a scoreless three games against the Nashville Predators before falling victim to a first-round sweep the following year. The last time they tasted postseason victory, it was drank out of a silver cup.
This team swings in extremes: when the morale is high, they’re riding it out at the very top. When morale is low, they get stuck in their ways, which only translates to repetitive mistakes and performance-hindering frustration. Currently, they’re lurking in the low, and a spark in their play is what they’ll need to get back to producing the way they can and should be.
In a year that would make a decade straight of playoff appearances, the Blackhawks could slight themselves of a postseason position, and at no fault but their own. Without a rallying mentality or a general confidence in the skills they are equipped with, Chicago will find themselves falling shorter and shorter of championship contention. The team is going to need to decide if they want success without Crawford… and if they deserve it.