Scott Burnside and Craig Custance debate whether Ray Emery is the answer in Chicago and whether the Kings will start playing up to their potential.
Burnside: Good day, my friend. While waiting for the profanity-fest that is “24/7” to come on, I watched with great interest Wednesday’s tilt between the top two teams in the Western Conference, Minnesota and Chicago. Great, great game. Blackhawks were up 2-0, Wild tied it and Hawks go up in the third before the Wild tied it on a delayed penalty. Chicago ended up with the extra point in a shootout, thanks to a wonderful move by Patrick Kane. Love or hate the shootout, fans got their money’s worth from this one. Watching, I was again reminded of just how deep the Blackhawks are offensively. Kane, Jonathan Toews (for my money, the Hart Trophy winner in waiting), Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, on and on it goes. The Hawks are fourth in the league and second behind Vancouver in the Western Conference in goals per game.
But (and you knew a “but” was coming, didn’t you?) curious about how the goaltending is going to play out. Emery made his third straight start for the Hawks and got his third straight win. He was good in the third. The tying goal went off defenseman Nick Leddy and Emery stopped both shootout attempts by the Wild. Overall he is an impressive 7-1-2 for the Hawks. Coach Joel Quenneville is saying all the predictable things about letting Emery roll when he’s hot, but you wonder about how this will shake down. Corey Crawford emerged last season as a guy that looked like he might be the goaltending future in Chicago. There’s enough firepower here for another long playoff run as the Hawks look to be settling once again into the upper echelons of the conference. But is Emery the guy to do that?
Custance: I love your skepticism, Scotty, it's what makes you a great journalist. When I was in Chicago earlier this week, Quenneville said exactly what you alluded to concerning his goalie situation.
"I think it's a healthy situation," Quenneville said. "Ray's playing well [and] deserves to keep going."
I tend to give Quenneville the benefit of the doubt on this one. I think what we're seeing right now is a backup goalie who is on a nice run, but ultimately this job will find its way back to Crawford, who the Blackhawks committed to long term with a three-year, $8 million contract.
But I'd much rather be in the Blackhawks' position than in Washington's, where the Capitals are struggling to find anybody consistent in goal. Stan Bowman was smart to take a risk on Emery, and it's paying off. Don't forget, he was signed to a professional tryout this summer and has had to earn everything he's getting. I remember talking to Emery about the situation in September, and he really liked the idea of playing for the Blackhawks, a team he rightly identified as one loaded with talent. Basically, he said it was up to him to make the best of a potentially great opportunity, and we're seeing it come to fruition right now. But if I had to bet, I'm still predicting Crawford as the starter in Game 1 of the playoffs. You?
Burnside: I am not down on Emery at all. In fact, I have all kinds of time for a guy that has gone through as much as Emery has over the past five years or so and still managed to keep his eye on the prize. Remember, the Ducks don’t make the playoffs last season without Emery’s solid play down the stretch. And the Hawks are one of the teams that put the lie to the myth that you need extraordinary goaltending to win a Cup.
Antti Niemi was good but not great in guiding the Hawks to the ’10 final and then only ordinary, but it was enough to beat Philly in six. Could Emery and Crawford combine to get the Blackhawks back to the Promised Land? Why not. But to your question, I won’t be surprised if Crawford is the guy between the pipes when the dust clears in mid-April, but given Quenneville’s history, it also wouldn’t surprise me to see Emery get more than mop-up action once the playoffs begin.
My question is this: Does the prolonged time on the bench have an adverse effect on Crawford right now? I guess if you’re as mentally tough as you need to be to be a top-flight NHL netminder, it shouldn’t. We’ll see.
Speaking of waiting to see, it must be fun in that Los Angeles dressing room now, listening to John Stevens plan the next contest while
everyone and his dog figures the Kings are just waiting until Darryl Sutter gets his boots cleaned off and the gate to the back forty locked up before he takes over. Not a pretty situation no matter how you cut it.
Custance: No, it's not. I've long been a supporter of Dean Lombardi and his game plan in Los Angeles. I appreciated his patience in building that team the right way, from the goaltender forward. He has two potentially great young goalies. When Drew Doughty plays up to his abilities, that is a promising young defense. I loved the Mike Richards addition, and Lombardi's refusal to overpay for Ilya Kovalchuk. Sure, he'd like to have the Dustin Penner trade back, but Lombardi has mostly executed his rebuild remarkably well.
But I don't get this. He's supposed to address the media soon, so maybe he can help shed some light into his coaching strategy, but right now I'm having a hard time understanding it.
Why put Stevens and the team through this uncomfortable purgatory? I understand wanting to make a change, but why not give Stevens a chance to right the ship before setting things in motion to land Sutter? It's not like people were banging down the barn door to hire Sutter. If it doesn't work with Stevens, you can still make that hire.
In the West, every point is crucial, and these are huge points the Kings are missing out on. The Kings are still just three points outside a playoff spot, but who in the top eight are you removing to put them back in? The Sharks? The Predators? The Blues? It's going to be a battle for the Kings, who need this situation resolved sooner rather than later.
Burnside: Well, I’ve already actually penned a column questioning the hiring of Sutter, should it come to pass (this is like promoting a new television show, no?), but I don’t quite get it, either. As we saw the other night with the Bruins shutting out the Kings in their first game after Terry Murray was fired, this isn’t all a coaching issue. In fact, coaching may be the least of this team’s concerns right now. For me, it’s gut-check time for a team that looks from the outside like it has all kinds of character and leadership, but inside, it appears to have little.
Where is Dustin Brown, the captain on this? I know he’s a quiet, understated kind of guy, but time to step up, no? He has a paltry five
goals. Justin Williams? Hello. And Drew Doughty, gee, was that extra few hundred-thousand dollars you demanded on your new contract worth it? What a colossal mess that whole contract situation turned out to be for a team that looked like it was ready to join the big boys in the conference but right now is dead last in goals scored and dead last in stepping up.
This is a Kings team that has not scored more than two goals in nine straight games. Yikes. Talked to Lombardi last week just before he fired Murray, and he was talking about the team’s confidence -- or lack thereof.
Can a coach instill confidence? I guess so. Or more to the point, for whoever is standing behind the Kings’ bench, that has to be Priority 1. A tall order no matter who it turns out to be.
Custance: The Kings play in Columbus Thursday, which may help in the confidence department. The Blue Jackets have won just six times at home this season, which is tied for the lowest total in the conference. But it's still not an automatic win. The Blue Jackets are coming off an impressive shootout win over the Canucks on Tuesday and have shown signs of life this month.
Regardless of who is behind the bench, the Kings need this one because it doesn't get any easier. They travel to Detroit to play the hot Red Wings on Saturday, and Monday's game in Toronto is no gimme, either. After that comes two off days, which may be the time the Kings implement a new system if a complete regime change is on the way. The bottom line, as Lombardi has pointed out, is that it's on the players. If the players you mentioned can emerge from this tough stretch a mentally stronger team, that may be the positive that comes out of all of this. Now, it's on them. Have a good one, Scott.