There were plenty of changes for the Blackhawks this offseason, mainly among the forward and defenseman groups. Uncertainty usually accompanies change, and the Blackhawks will work through that as they have in the past.
But when it comes to the Blackhawks’ goaltending, coach Joel Quenneville is pretty sure of what he’s got.
“There was some uncertainty there in the past,” he said. “And now we’re probably as comfortable as we’ve been with our goaltenders, one-two, starting the season.”
Corey Crawford and Scott Darling made a great tandem down the stretch and both are looking to start the 2015-16 season strong. For Crawford, it’s building off a second Stanley Cup and second William Jennings Trophy — he shared last season’s honor with Carey Price and shared the 2012-13 award with former teammate Ray Emery. For Darling, it’s prepping for a sophomore season after an impressive 2014-15.
“Well, I think both guys proved they can play, and both played meaningful games for us down the stretch,” Quenneville said. “Darls came a long way over the course of a season; it looks like he’s taking off from that note and wants to get better. I think there’s healthy competition and good support through each other as well.”
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Crawford and Darling have formed a good bond on and off the ice. The competition, however, remains.
“We push each other, we work together to make each other better,” Crawford said. “We talk about other teams’ players, our technique, pretty much anything. It’s good to have that communication between us and with Jimmy (Waite, Blackhawks goaltending coach), too. We have to be a team back there and work on ways to — not necessarily make it easier, but find ways where it’s more efficient to stop the puck. We’re both excited, and we both feel pushing each other makes us that much better, too.”
Darling said Crawford is another “coach” for him.
“He’s a little easier on me than Jimmy,” Darling said. “But just learning from him and watching how he prepares and plays game in and game out has been helpful for my career. There’s no better mentor to have.”
It was a short summer for all of the returning Blackhawks, including the goaltenders. For Crawford, this is his second quick offseason turnaround. But he said he budgeted his off time the right way.
“The training was there, no question; I didn’t miss any of that. I took just enough time (off), mentally and physically, and then it was back to work. You don’t want to miss too much time because it gets harder and harder to start back up as the years go on,” Crawford said with a smile. “Hockey-wise in the summer, it’s the same thing. That nice mental break helps when you’re coming into camp fresh. Your mind’s fresh and you’re hungry to be on the ice and start playing again.”
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Darling had enough trial-by-fire moments last season that nothing should surprise him entering this one. If there was any question of Darling’s ability to handle the pressure, it was answered in that first-round series against the Nashville Predators.
“I had a lot of growing experiences last season, whether it was getting multiple starts in a row or not playing for a long time and then having to go in. And the playoffs were obviously huge for me,” Darling said. “That gives me confidence going forward, to know I can do it. I’ve done it before, so I just have to build off that.”
Speaking of confidence, considering how much Quenneville has in Crawford and Darling, don’t be surprised if the starts are more divided between the two.
“It’s not etched in stone how much or who’s going to play, but I think we expect them both to be regularly playing and keep them both fresh as possible as well,” Quenneville said. “We like our goaltending situation.”
The Blackhawks had their share of summer changes. Goaltending wasn’t one of them, and the Blackhawks are assured in that familiarity.
“I just think whoever’s playing gives us the confidence we need in our defensive game. If something goes wrong, they’ll do everything they can to stop the puck,” Marcus Kruger said. “They just give us that confidence, and we know they’ll give us a good chance to win every night. That’s huge to have two goalies like that.”