Oct 132010

Head coach Joel Quenneville surprised some today when he informed the assembled media after this morning’s skate of his intentions to start Corey Crawford tonight when the Nashville Predators make their maiden 2010-11 season voyage to United Center.

This should come as little shock to anyone.  As we mentioned here last week, this is the same coach who sat Cristobal Huet, a year ago tonight (technically tomorrow, the 14th), when Nikolai Khabibulin made his return with his new team, the Edmonton Oilers.

The rest is history.  The Hawks played spectacularly in front of Antti Niemi, defeating the Oilers and Khabibulin 4-3.  Niemi was nothing special that evening.  But he was good enough.  Huet watched from the bench.  And a goaltending “controversy” was born.

Quenneville’s choice to start Crawford back-to-back after the team’s first win of the season in Buffalo does make sense if you think in logical terms.

Turco started twice and both times lost.  Crawford got off to a shaky start Monday, but stood tall during the late first period five minute disadvantage brought on by Niklas Hjalmarsson’s mis-timed blindside hit on Jason Pominville and withstood a decent third period Sabre push to preserve a Marian Hossa led 4-3 victory.

Marty Turco looked great in the opener in Colorado for the first thirteen minutes, but then things started to fall apart.  He did stop 37 of 41 Avalanche shots, but three of those goals were goals Turco shouldn’t have let in.  His positioning on the Chris Stewart 2 on 1 was comical and both of Stastny’s goal should have been stopped.  The Hawks managed a point, but they should have come away with two.

Now, if you believe Turco is the Hawks undisputed number one, you’re probably confused by this move.

Tonight starts a string of 7 games in 11 nights.  The Hawks are beginning the season with 10 games in 17 days.  Both goalies will be seeing plenty of action early on.

Before Quenneville made tonight’s starter official, I think everyone would have easily assumed Crawford would get the call on Saturday in the rematch with Buffalo (since he played so well on Monday) while the supposed #1 netminder, Turco, get the call tonight and Friday in Columbus.  After all, Turco is a different kind of goalie then the Hawks are used to.  Both he, and his teammates, could use the time to get used to each other.  I guess Quenneville has other ideas in mind.

There’s also this to consider.

For all the talk of Turco fairing better behind the Blackhawk defense, his flip-flopping sieve-ness is still ever-present.

Crawford won’t wow anybody.  He’s a technical goalie who knows his angles, uses his size well and makes the first save.  Honestly, he’s not all that different than Cristobal Huet.  What remains to be seen is how Crawford mentally handles a coach like Quenneville, who has little understanding or regard for a goaltender’s rhythm or psyche.

On the other hand, this is a good early litmus test for Turco.  Obviously Huet didn’t handle Quenneville’s mismanagement or mind games well.  It took a while for him to mentally crack, but the team’s confidence shifted to Niemi very early on.  Turco could view this as a challenge and feed off it as inspiration.

Quenneville’s again playing a very dangerous game with his net.  He was lucky it didn’t backfire on him last season, but that was because Niemi was unflappable and came up great in the postseason.

The odds are a lot weaker that Turco will crack under Q’s watch.  However, we don’t have any evidence to say Turco can even be counted on as the Hawks’ number one goalie in the spring.

And that’s why Crawford starting tonight really doesn’t bother me.

If Niemi couldn’t fit in under the Hawks’ salary cap and Turco had to be a Blackhawk, to me, Turco’s insurance for this season.

The real question is who will be the Blackhawks goaltender beyond this year?  No matter what Turco does this year ultimately won’t affect his status.  He chose Chicago because it was the best place for him to earn one more big contract.  With Turco turning 36 next summer, Stan Bowman won’t be eager to commit a long term contract at double or triple Turco’s current $1.3M salary.

Sooner than later, the Blackhawks need to know what they have in Crawford.

The other option is to not know, and overspend on another goalie in the 2011 free agency market.  Good luck.  Not only will the Hawks be tight against the cap again next year, but we all know how well the Huet and Khabibulin signings worked out.

This is one time a Quenneville goaltending conundrum isn’t actually all that confusing.

Still, if Crawford gets the win tonight, you’ll hear and read a lot of people proposing the question – “who is the Hawks real number one goalie?”

It’s a fair question, no matter the outcome of tonight’s game.


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