Between both Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford last year, they saw action in a combined 4 games. Niemi was the only one to start. He started two games in March while Nikolai Khabibulin recovered from his lower body injury.
In his first start against the Los Angeles Kings, the Hawks jumped to an early lead and kept the pressure out of their zone. Niemi made key stops when he had to and he won his first start 4-2.
His next start wasn’t so pretty. In the midst of their ‘March Tailspin’, the Hawks played their worst game of the season against the Colorado Avalanche. They were thoroughly dominated by one of the more atrocious teams in hockey on their home ice 5-1 and Niemi was just as much to blame in that one as the rest of the team.
Crawford spent his whole season in Rockford. In the playoffs, the Hawks called him up as their third goalie. When Khabibulin went down with another lower body injury in the second period of Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, Crawford had to make the unenviable journey from sipping water in the press box to being one injury away from seeing his first NHL action of the season.
He ended up seeing his first action in the abortion that was Game 4. Crawford took over for the beleaguered Cristobal Huet and turned away 6 of the 7 shots he faced.
Corey Crawford/Antti Niemi’s (‘Nieford’) 2009-2010 will be a success if…
One of them is reliable enough to make 25 to 30 starts. The biggest (and probably only) battle taking place in the Blackhawks training camp is for the back-up goaltender. The winner of the roster spot will end up being one of the more important players on the team. With Cristobal Huet subject to occasional breakdowns, ‘Nieford’ will be counted on to deliver adequate NHL goaltending. The Hawks won’t be expecting the second coming of Ken Dryden during their starts, but ‘Nieford’ needs to give them, at the worst, an 89% save percentage.
‘Nieford’s’ 2009-2010 will be a disappointment if…
Neither claims residence in Chicago. Nothing will be worse for the Blackhawks than if both Crawford and Niemi are taking turns stinking it up in the NHL. That will put the Hawks in a precaurious situation. Having two goalies who aren’t good enough to make a start once a week will essentially force management’s hand into dealing for a veteran back-up. It won’t cost a whole lot (probably a late round pick) but it’s not exactly what the Hawks planned on when they drafted Crawford in the second round and outbid other teams for Niemi’s service.
One of the biggest criticisms of the Blackhawks off-season was their refusal to address the back-up goalie situation. Cristobal Huet can’t make more than 60 starts in a season. Any team that gives their starting goalie that many starts is begging for trouble (See last year’s Flames team). That leaves at least 20 games and 40 points up for grabs. The goalie responsible for picking up those points will be two guys with a combined 10 games of NHL experience.
Chances are strong to quite strong ‘Nieford’ will end up getting more than 20 games. If they don’t respond with at least average goaltending, it has the potential to be a spectacular train wreck.
Would it have hurt to pick up a veteran goalie off the scrap heap and assure themselves of at least one stretch of solid goaltending ala Patrick Lalime in 2007-2008? Only time will tell. For now, I’ll remain completely skeptical.