Corey Crawford has already won the Stanley Cup twice with the Chicago Blackhawks, but individual awards have escaped him.
With a strong finish to this regular season, that could change.
With midseason favorite Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals sliding statistically since January, Crawford has emerged as a strong candidate to win the 2016 Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender.
Although Holtby could still break Martin Brodeur's record of 48 wins in a season, he has dropped to the bottom or outside of the top-10 in the most significant statistical save percentage categories. Crawford, meanwhile, is near or atop most of those same lists, including the ones that adjust for the quality of chances he faces based on shot distance.
Video: CHI@DAL: Crawford denies Faksa's one-timer in the 2nd
"It's been a good year," Crawford told reporters after stopping 34 of 35 in a March 6 win against the Detroit Red Wings. "[The Vezina Trophy] would be a pretty nice honor, but we've got a bunch of games to play and it's always about the next game first."
Crawford is second in the NHL in save percentage among the goalies that have appeared in at least 40 games at .927, and his .937 even-strength save percentage trails only New York Rangers star Henrik Lundqvist (.939) on that list. Holtby is 10th at .929.
For those who argue Crawford's success is a product of the Chicago system, his adjusted 5-on-5 save percentage, which weighs a goaltender's workload based on shot distance, is .9367, again second only to Lundqvist at .9398, according to war-on-ice.com. Crawford's .9262 adjusted save percentage in all situations is second in the NHL, and although factoring in shot distance isn't enough to totally quantify the discrepancy in shot quality because it doesn't include pre-shot puck movement, it adds context lacking in the raw numbers.
Of course, Crawford is doing pretty well in those categories too.
Video: CHI@STL: Crawford makes back-to-back saves on Stastny
He leads the NHL with seven shutouts; for those who would believe the shutouts have helped offset more bad games and are a sign of inconsistency, Crawford also leads the League with 40 Quality Starts, which are defined as starts with a save percentage above the NHL average for the season or above .885 in games with less than 20 shots, according to Hockey-Reference.com. Crawford's .715 quality start percentage is also tops among goalies to play more than 40 games. That helps offset Crawford's seven Really Bad Starts, which are defined as games started with a save percentage below .850, compared to five for Holtby and four for Lundqvist.
"It's a combination of a lot of things," Crawford said when asked about his consistency this season. "You take care of yourself, have the right mindset, battling hard every game and making sure you are prepared to play every game the right way."
Crawford also leads the NHL with a 19.70 Goals Saved Above Average, which tracks the number of goals saved compared to what a goalie with the League average save percentage would have allowed, according to Hockey-Reference.com. When analyst Nick Mercadante last broke that statistic down on March 10, weighing the shot difficulty based on location during 5-on-5 play, Crawford's 0.384 goals saved per 60 minutes trailed only Lundqvist (0.448) among goalies with 40-plus games played.
In other words, Crawford's season is not all about the play of a Blackhawks team uncharacteristically ranked 14th in 5-on-5 Shot Attempt Percentage at 50.68, just ahead of the 16th-place Capitals (50.38) but well up on the 24th-place Rangers (47.52).
Video: PIT@NYR: Lundqvist takes Hagelin's blast off the mask
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers: If there is any goalie that has proven capable of a hot streak that could knock Crawford out of the top spot over the final month, it's Lundqvist, especially when you factor in his role overcoming their above-mentioned possession problems. Lundqvist was our runaway leader for the Vezina Trophy after the first quarter of the season, and after a second-quarter dip that dropped him out of our top three, he has again worked himself back into the top of the conversation. In fact, as already highlighted above, Lundqvist is the only goalie ahead of Crawford in most even-strength save percentage categories. The problem is Lundqvist's .832 shorthanded save percentage, which ranks 20th among goalies to play more than 40 games. Though even-strength save percentage is preferred to provide a better indicator of repeatable performance in the future, killing penalties is a big part of evaluating this season.
Video: WSH@LAK: Holtby stops Kopitar, Carter in 1st
Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals: Some see wins as purely a team statistic, especially when your team scores the second-most goals in the League, but that probably isn't fair to Holtby. The ability to stick to the changes he has made under goaltending coach Mitch Korn over the past two seasons when the game is on the line, to not vary in his approach from game to game or when things get tight late, is a skill just as much as a butterfly push or a glove save. You could argue it shows in one-goal games, and the Capitals' 25 wins and .694 win percentage in one-goal games lead the NHL. Holtby is 20-4-4 in one-goal games this season, but that might not be enough to overcome the drop from a .932 save percentage that led the League at the midway point of the season to 10th place at .922 with a month left to play.
ALSO IN THE MIX: Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning; Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils; Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings