Blackhawks coach blames Corey Crawford’s struggles on sophomore slump

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Perhaps the Chicago Blackhawks’ defense allowed quality chances in the limited shots that Corey Crawford saw against the Phoenix Coyotes, but it still seemed pretty clear that Crawford’s faults were magnified in that series. That first-round loss might just have been the low point in a series of struggles for Crawford after a surprisingly successful rookie season, but coach Joel Quenneville hinted to Jesse Rogers that it might have just been a sophomore slump.

“You look at the history of goaltenders around the league … there is a little bit of a bounce factor in that second year,” Quenneville said. “A number of top goalies have had that career path. We anticipate Corey getting right back on track.”

That may be true, but there are plenty of netminders who essentially were one-hit wonders. Guys like Andrew Raycroft and Steve Mason earned Calder Trophies only to see their career outlooks decline from “star of the future” to scratching and clawing just to retain a backup gig.

The difference between being a successful NHL goalie and a “sieve” often comes down to stoping one or two percent more shots than the other guy, so any number of factors can explain a downfall. Perhaps a breakout rookie believes his own hype and rests on his laurels a bit. Maybe it’s like a major league pitcher; after a year or so, people figure out your weaknesses and you can’t “sneak up” on anybody anymore.

Of course, there’s also the distinct possibility that a given goalie just isn’t very good.

Really, the only time Crawford looked truly exceptional was when the Blackhawks almost came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Vancouver Canucks in a series in 2011. Crawford racked up an impressive .927 save percentage in that seven-game series but eventually fell to Vancouver.

His 2010-11 numbers were solid, but not quite spectacular. No doubt about it, Crawford’s stats tumbled last season, forcing Chicago to do some soul searching. They seem content to roll with Crawford – who has two more years left on his contract – for now, but we’ll find out soon enough if 2011-12 was a bump in the road or merely a sign of things to come.