The Goalie Guild

Corey Crawford and the Dynamic Entity

The current inconsistencies plaguing Corey Crawford were further compounded tonight when he allowed three goals on 16 shots in 21:09 against the Phoenix Coyotes. The Coyotes went on to win the game in a shootout, 4-3, despite Ray Emery stopping all 10 shots he faced in relief.

Photo Courtesy of Hockey Broad Photography

Yes, there are certain elements of Crawford’s game that lead me to believe he has some work to do this season. This includes, but is not limited to, glove hand positioning and skating. I’ve noticed an issue with the glove being exposed since the preseason, and like it is for many NHL goalies, it has become a main target for the opposition due to past goals given up glove side.

I also feel that Crawford is not one of the better skaters compared to other NHL goalies. It is easy to see he’s not the smoothest or the most “fluid” in and around his crease area, especially when trying to move the puck quickly while within the evil trapezoid.

But the more important thing for readers to understand is that, as much as it pains me to say this, the dreaded sophomore slump is starting to take a toll on Crawford’s aura. Furthermore, I feel as if he is no longer a Dynamic Entity, and the more he plays right now, the harder he has to work to be successful again.

The Dynamic Entity is a term I’ve created to describe an NHL goaltender that has yet been scouted by the general NHL populous. The more they play as a rookie, the more they are allowed to go out there and play in the very unique and specific “style and manner” that have made them successful up to that point. This is why you often see goalies post such good numbers, and earn quality minutes, as a rookie.

But at a certain point in time (it could be five games, it could be five weeks, it could be 25 games), the goalie is scouted to the point where they cross a threshold and are no longer considered dynamic. They are no longer “unknown” talent to their opponents. The book is out on them, so to speak.

This makes the sophomore slump, in my opinion, an inescapable part of being an NHL goaltender. For the more they play, the more the opposition learns about their tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. The goalie might gain experience and learn how to read plays better, but shooters and other teams are fighting back by gaining experience and learning how to read goalies better.

It becomes a constant game of Tug of War between goalies and opponents. As the goalie gains more exposure and gets scouted and analyzed, he fights back by working even harder in practice and during the summers to improve areas of weakness, and hone areas of strength. They build their library of shooter tendencies, they better map developing plays, and they learn how to better manage their lives.

NHL.com has a great piece on Crawford, and some of these elements taking place with his game right now.

Some goalies work harder than others. Some goalies face less adversity as a sophomore than others. Some have the sheer elite talent to overcome those obstacles. Others don’t. Others have to battle their way through it, get a little puck luck, or hope they get enough chances to survive the struggles. It is not only a physical battle, but it is also a very tough mental battle as well.

And I think right now, Crawford’s battle is more mental than technical.

With the way he played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Canucks, the expectations this season are extremely high. He not only has to maintain the role as the workhorse starter, he has to take this team to the second round of the playoffs, and beyond.

Photo Courtesy of Hockey Broad Photography

This is not an easy situation for Crawford. Because of the struggles he had in October and November, this doesn’t really allow him to let things happen naturally. He has to go in, extrapolate the issue(s), and do whatever he can to fix it as quickly as possible. Because of this, a slippery slope could occur:

1. Once Crawford realizes he has to fix elements of his game that shooters have picked apart, it is time to exert energy and focus more time on making adjustments to technique and style.

2. Once he is forced to put more time and effort into making adjustments to his technique, the more he is prone to over-thinking things, or exerting too much time and energy on a certain complex aspect of stopping pucks.

3. Once he is prone to over-thinking things, he is prone to losing confidence and focus by over or under-reacting, making mistakes or hesitations, thus ultimately playing not to lose, instead of playing to win.

When a goalie is no longer a Dynamic Entity (again, crossing that threshold comes at different times for different goalies), it is often only their work ethic that can stretch and improve their current talent potential. Meaning, the only way to get better, and in Crawford’s situation get over the sophomore slump, is to work even harder than ever before.

Elements like puck luck, the play of the backup, and coaching decisions, are totally uncontrollable. But how hard a goalie works, and what kind of mindset they have heading into games and practices, are totally controllable.

And the first lesson of being an elite goalie is learning how to control what you can control, and forget about the things that you cannot control. Even at his age, I feel like Crawford is learning through experience, what it means to be a workhorse starter in the NHL. He is learning what it means to be relied upon every single night, regardless of the situation, the opponent, or past success.

Goaltending is all about “what have you done for me lately” and lately, he has been allowing more than three goals per game. That’s not fulfilling expectations. That’s not Blackhawks goaltending.

Although I truly love Crawford’s ability to battle and rely on sheer work ethic and maturity to win hockey games, I feel that his game is very scoutable. This can change as time goes on, but I feel this, plus what you hear me discuss in the Audio Report, is why Crawford is currently struggling with his consistency.

Even with all of that being said, it is work ethic and the ability to battle that overcomes all other issues with over-complicated and complex butterfly techniques. He has to will himself through the struggles, exert the mental energy to re-inject confidence, and simply trailblaze through it.

–[ A SERIOUS QUESTION ARISES ]—

What I hate most about this whole Crawford situation is the fact that, on some level, all scouts (including myself) play a role in the erosion of a goalie’s level of dynamism. And I want all goalies to be dynamic and un-scoutable!! Arrggh. But I guess the ability to maintain yourself as a Dynamic Entity is reserved for the truly elite goalies.

Pekka Rinne is nearly unscoutable, as is Henrik Lundqvist, Tim Thomas and Dominik Hasek.

Of everything I have pondered tonight, one major question arises. Should NHL teams, knowing the sophomore slump is inescapable, manage around it? Is there a way to limit the obstacles a sophomore faces? Should sophomores not be allowed to carry the “workhorse starter” role for the sheer evil fate that lies in wait?

Not a chance in hell.

Goalies are warriors. They are paid big money to fight through any and all obstacles. And I’m sure every single one of them will agree with me on that. They embrace the challenge. That’s what got them into the NHL in the first place.

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  1. Mark Bloom says:

    Great read. I think the Hawks defensive sleepiness compounds what’s going on with him, too. It’s almost like they figure can ease up a bit because the old Crow is back there…not a goalie who might be sliding into a sophomore slump like you say. So suddenly, he has no room for error…or luck. 

  2. Great article, thanks. Still think Crawford is in Halak territory, alot stronger work ethic and mentally strong, but raw talent/reflexes arent there.

  3. Good read and listen Justin. Nice to get an objective take on the Crawford situation.

    Not sure if I feel better or worse though!!!

    • Thanks. It’s an inevitability of being an NHL goalie and being a starter in your sophomore season. Just hope his work ethic continues to be strong and he has one big game sooner rather than later. That’s all it will take – one big game, one big save – to turn things around.

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