Speaking as someone who is less than the world’s biggest fan of Marty Turco, I have to admit that I didn’t think there was anyway that unheralded backup Corey Crawford was going to unseat him as the Chicago Blackhawks’ starting goaltender.
But with Turco faltering (8-8-2, 0.896 SV%) after joining the team as a bargain signing in the summer, Crawford stepped up and has been a competent replacement. Through 18 games, Crawford has a 11-6-1 record to go along with a 0.916 SV%, and has had all but two of Chicago’s December starts.
In Philadelphia, goaltending was a question mark entering the season. Incumbent starter (and, last season, waiver pickup) Michael Leighton was hurt, backup Brian Boucher had an underwhelming 2009-10 season, while third-stringer Johan Backlund had a track record of barely treading water in the AHL (until this season, when even that stopped happening). Into the gap stepped Sergei Bobrovsky, an unknown 22 year-old crossing the pond from the KHL.
Today, Bobrovsky may be the front-runner for the Calder Trophy, boasting a 15-5-3 record and 0.919 SV%.
But while both of last season’s Stanley Cup finalists boast young, unheralded goaltenders as their current starters, one of them looks unlikely to hang on to the role, while the other just may be for real.
Corey Crawford is the hot hand right now, while Bobrovsky is dealing with competition from the suddenly hot Boucher (last eight games: 6-0-1, 0.941 SV%) but I’d say it is Crawford that may be the worse bet over the long haul.
Crawford was originally taken in the second round of the extremely deep 2003 NHL Entry Draft and spent the next two seasons as one of the best goaltenders in the QMJHL, being named to two second-team All-Star teams.
In 2005-06, Crawford graduated to the professional ranks, but had a rocky start with Chicago’s farm team in Norfolk, being solidly outplayed by backup Adam Munro (presently sporting an 0.896 SV% in Italy after an unremarkable minor league career highlighted by 17 games in the NHL). Still, the Blackhawks remained positive; then-GM Dale Tallon told The Hockey News that Crawford was “a No. 1-type goalie for sure” and praising his work ethic, mentality, size, strength and ability.
Over the next four seasons, Crawford would play eight games for the ‘Hawks, spending the vast majority of his time in the AHL. His save percentage wasn’t bad at that level, varying between 0.907 and 0.917, but he occasionally posted inferior save percentages to his backups, including 40 year-old Wade Flaherty in 2007-08 and fringe AHL’er Joe Fallon last year.
It could be that Crawford is a late-bloomer; goaltenders have erratic development paths and he certainly wouldn’t be the first player to transform from a relatively unremarkable minor-league journeyman into an NHL-calibre goaltender. But there are five years of evidence that an AHL-calibre starter is all he is, and it’s going to be a while before I put faith in his abilities.
Of course, it will also be a while before I really have confidence that Sergei Bobrovsky is what he appears to be right now, but his track record is more hopeful than Crawford’s.
Broad Street Hockey did a nice write-up on Bobrovsky last April when the Flyers signed him. Bobrovsky has two seasons of high-end professional experience: two in the KHL and one in the old Russian Super League. His 2007-08 RSL save percentage isn’t that impressive (0.901) until his age is considered; he had just turned 19. He was certainly considered one of the top young goaltenders in his country because he helped Russia to a bronze medal at the World Juniors that winter, recording an impressive 0.919 SV% through six games.
He broke out on a brutal team in 2008-09, and recorded nice numbers (0.927 and 0.919) in his two KHL seasons. Given his age, this is highly impressive; there simply aren’t that many goaltenders who can establish themselves in a high-end professional league around the age of 20.
And now Bobrovsky’s posting similar numbers in North America. Certainly, he doesn’t have a long track record here, and there are questions about how good those numbers would be behind a less competent defence, but all the same this marks the fourth season in a row Bobrovsky has impressed as a professional.
It’s entirely possible he’s the long-awaited answer in the Flyers’ net.