PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner will battle for playing time in goal this season for the Chicago Blackhawks, but who starts opening night in the 2019 NHL Global Series against the Philadelphia Flyers at O2 Arena on Friday (2 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN360, NBCSP, NBCSCH, NHL.TV) is still a mystery.
"We'll see," said coach Jeremy Colliton, who doesn't divulge the starting goalie until the day of the game.
"They've both played well in preseason. So, it's the kind of situation we're hoping to be in where we feel, no matter who's in the net, we're going to get a good performance."
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Crawford, who helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2013 and 2015, was 14-18-5 with a 2.93 goals-against average and .908 save percentage in 39 games last season. Lehner who signed a one-year, $5-million contract with the Blackhawks on July 1, was 25-13-5 with a 2.13 GAA and .930 save percentage in 46 games last season with the New York Islanders, and was a Vezina Trophy finalist voted for the League's top goalie.
Together, they could be the best 1-2 punch in the NHL.
"I mean it's 1-1 punch since they're both great goaltenders," forward Andrew Shaw said. "They've both played for a long time and earned where they are. It's going to be a lot of fun. When you have a backup who only plays 25 games, you need to win at least 17 of those games. With the 1-2 punch, they'll feed off each other, no one will be too tired, and it'll make for a more successful year."
Crawford, who missed 80 games over the past two seasons with concussions, developed a good rapport with Lehner in training camp. The 34-year-old said he believes Lehner will push him to be better and provide Chicago a reliable second goalie.
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"I think it's always nice to have someone pushing you for ice time, just to be at your best. I think it's good for us. Considering injury history, too, it's a nice safety," Crawford said. "I mean it's a good challenge. We're working for getting in the net as much as we can."
So how will the starts be divided? Colliton said he hasn't determined that yet.
"We have to win games, and I think they know that," Colliton said. "If they're playing really well, they want to play. And I think, whether that's at forward, defense or goaltender, competitors want to be rewarded when they do the right things and it's only going to be good for our team."
"At the end of the day, it's about the team," he said. "There are lot of good goalies in the system, from up here to Rockford (of the American Hockey League). You've got to play to earn your ice and that's kind of what I have the feel for it's going to be here. This team wants to win, so it's going to be up to each and every one of us how much playing time we're going to have."
Lehner was part of a successful tandem with Thomas Greiss (23-14-2, 2.28 GAA, .927 save percentage in 43 games) last season with the Islanders. Together they won the William M. Jennings Trophy, given to the goaltenders for the team with the fewest goals against (191). But Lehner said you can't assume starts will be evenly split.
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"People talk like that was a predetermined 1-2 tandem, and it wasn't," he said. "It wasn't like we were splitting every other game, either. I was playing for a week he was playing for a week. A 1-2 tandem only works when both guys are performing. If both goalies are performing at a really high level, it gives the coach an option of resting and making sure that one of the goalies doesn't get too tired down the stretch. You look around the League, there are a lot of teams that didn't want their goalie to play 65, 68 games but the other goalie didn't play well enough. If the other goalie plays well enough it gets cut down."
Lehner pointed to the Boston Bruins, who divided the starts rather evenly between Tukka Rask (27-13-5, 2.48 GAA, .912 save percentage in 45 starts) and Jaroslav Halak (22-11-4, 2.34 GAA, .922 save percentage in 37 starts) last season.
"Halak is a great goalie, he came in and played well and gave the coach the chance to cut down Tuukka's games a little bit," Lehner said. "But you can't go into seasons thinking like that, because both of your guys have to perform at the same level, both guys have to win a bunch of games. If I play well and [Crawford] plays well, it's good for the team and it's going to give the coach an option to do whatever he wants."
It's hard to determine whether a goalie tandem will work before the season has even begun. But if Crawford and Lehner are at their best, the Blackhawks could be in a great situation in net.