Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville isn’t the type to make sweeping declarations about the identity of his No.1 goaltender. So the NHL essentially did it for him by awarding Ray Emery with third star of the week honors.
Emery is entrenched -- at least for now. He’s been in net for the last three wins, including back-to-back stellar 2-1 road victories which have given renewed hope that the Hawks will put together a good finish to the regular season.
“I think he’s grown as the year has progressed,” Quenneville told reporters Monday, after naming Emery the starter for Tuesday’s game against the St. Louis Blues. “Once the season started, I think every game he’s been solid.”
There have been a few hiccups here and there, but Emery has more than done his part as the backup who came to training camp on a tryout. Now it’s his starting job to lose down the stretch.
“He’s fit in nicely with our team, absorbing some responsibility in an earlier stretch,” Quenneville said. “Now it’s a big time for us and he’s stepping forward. We like it.”
The earlier stretch Quenneville is referring to came in December when Emery minded the net for a 6-0-1 mark while Corey Crawford was struggling. That planted the seed for what is growing now -- yet another goaltender change as the calendar inches towards the postseason. It’s a rite of spring in Chicago these days.
“It’s very unusual,” Quenneville said. “Once is probably plenty. Twice is a lot. Three is unusual. There is no rhyme or reason. It’s all coincidental. It’s just the way it seems to be working.”
Two seasons ago Cristobal Huet gave way to Antti Niemi and the Hawks won the Stanley Cup. Last year Marty Turco lost his job to Crawford and they almost pulled off an upset over Vancouver in the first round of the postseason. Now, it looks like Crawford might sit behind Emery.
“[Emery’s] really had a great season,” Patrick Sharp said. “He’s a confident player right now. He’s stopping a lot of pucks and we’re playing a good team game in front of him. It’s nice to know he’s going to make the save for us back there and he’s been doing it.”
Emery is 14-8-2 with a .909 save percentage and a 2.58 goals-against average. His numbers don’t exactly jump off the page compared to the rest of the league and previous to these last three wins he had lost five starts in a row. But, right now, he’s the Hawks’ best option. That doesn’t necessarily mean he will be a month from now.
It wasn’t that long ago Crawford pitched one-goal efforts in three straight games and looked like he would be the man for spring. But things changed when he was pulled in two consecutive games, admitting afterward his play wasn’t good enough.
So now it’s on Emery.
But will it be come April? Fifteen games will tell the story.
Toews and Hjalmarsson update: Quenneville said Monday that Jonathan Toews had an “encouraging” off-ice workout in Chicago, but there’s still no timetable for his return to skating or playing in a game. Toews has missed the last seven games. If Niklas Hjalmarsson is any indication, it will take Toews more than just a day or two of practice before he can play in a game. Hjalmarsson has missed 11 of 12 but has been practicing hard to get back. He says his conditioning is close, but he was ruled out of Tuesday’s game.