To say this is a make-or-break year for Corey Crawford wouldn't be original; he's said it himself on more than one occasion since training camp opened. But the Blackhawks' hopes of winning a second Stanley Cup inside five years rests between the pipes, and Crawford will need to back up his open self-assessment quickly when the new season begins.
Let's take a look at the two goalies on the Blackhawks roster as we get closer to the season (finally) beginning.
The list of issues with the Blackhawks defense last year is long, and the blame shouldn't fall on the goaltender(s) alone. The fact that Chicago was the only team in the league to not register at least one shutout last year has been talked about for months, but there are other disturbing statistics that speak to just how mediocre the Blackhawks were last season.
Chicago allowed 170 goals during five-on-five play, which ranked 27th in the NHL last year, and the team's combined 2.82 goals against average ranked 22nd in the league. The Blackhawks allowed the first goal in a game 46 times during last year's regular season, a number that must improve; they did, however, battle back for a 19-19-8 record in games in which they trailed first.
The second period felt like a killer to fans last year, and the season-ending statistics back up those emotions. The Blackhawks allowed 86 goals during the middle frame last year, which was the third-worst total in the NHL. By comparison, they allowed 70 and 71 goals in the first and third periods, respectively.
2011-12: 30-17-7, 2.72 goals against, .903 save percentage
The Good: Crawford has started 55 games in each of the last two seasons, and is the first Hawks netminder to post back-to-back 30-win seasons since Ed Belfour. The Bad: Crawford's numbers went the wrong direction after a strong performance against Vancouver in the 2011 postseason. His confidence in himself was shaken, he lost the confidence of the coaching staff more than once last year, and the pressure is now squarely on the 29-year-old's shoulders to be the guy that excited fans in 2010-11 and not the disappointment from last season.
2011-12: 15-9-4, 2.81 goals against, .900 save percentage
Emery stepped in a few times and was able to play effectively for the Blackhawks last season, but there are still questions about the Hawks' depth at the position.
One number that must be improved by Crawford and Emery (and anyone else that might contribute this season) is making saves. Last year, the Blackhawks' netminders combined to post a .901 save percentage, which ranked 26th in the NHL. The four teams that trailed Chicago - Columbus, the New York Islanders, Toronto and Tampa Bay - all had one thing in common: they missed the playoffs.
If the Hawks want to make a deep run, whomever is in net will have to be better.