Tag: Alexander Salak

Josh Green, Ray Emery

Ray Emery wins his Blackhawks debut


After making the Chicago’s roster on a professional tryout in training camp, Ray Emery made the most of his first start with the Blackhawks en route to a 4-3 win in front of a sold-out United Center crowd.  The win helped the Blackhawks improve to 2-1 on the young season; while dropping the visiting Winnipeg Jets to 0-2.

Things didn’t exactly start off on the right foot for the Hamilton, ON native. The Jets jumped out to a 2-0 lead as they scored two quick goals in the first eight minutes on Emery. But the team settled down and had four straight goals that led to Emery’s first win in a Blackhawks’ sweater. By the end of the night, Emery has stopped 27 of 30 shots against Winnipeg and held off the pressing Jets as they tried to tie the score in the waning minutes.

Joel Quenneville liked what he saw from his new goaltender in his first start:

“He was rock solid in the third and it was a great test to see how he responded to some dangerous opportunities.”

It certainly helps having the star-studded Blackhawk forwards in front of him to bail the team out of the 2-0 hole. Patrick Kane continued his evolution into an NHL center with a goal and a pair of assists, Marian Hossa chipped in a goal and an assist as he skated on Kane’s wing, and Andrew Brunette scored his second goal of the season with his new team. Primetime performers like that have a way of making a .900 save percentage and 3.00 goals against average look a little better. Besides, the only statistic that matters at the end of the night: one win.

Emery knows that he’ll need to keep his foot on the gas if he wants to solidify his spot on the Blackhawks for the rest of the season. Corey Crawford looks like he’ll be the starter for the rest of the season, meaning Emery will be fighting with Alexander Salak for the rest of the season for the right to wear a baseball hat on the bench in Chicago. Emery got a little more good news earlier in the day when Salak was assigned to Rockford in the AHL before the game.

It’s a great story to see Emery’s success early in the season. He was a finalist for the Masterton Trophy for “exemplifying the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey” last season after coming back from a career threatening hip injury. For people who are root for the good human interest story, look no further than Emery for a guy who is thriving in the face of some pretty long odds.

Still, if he falters, he could be replaced by the promising Salak faster than you can say “Marty Turco.” Our advice to Emery: just keep winning. It’s hard to waive an undefeated goaltender.

So just which goalie is hurting in Chicago?

Corey Crawford

While the Blackhawks are gearing up for the next game tomorrow against Winnipeg, we’ve seen Corey Crawford get a maintenance day recently (although Joel Quenneville says he’ll be fine) and today it was Ray Emery who didn’t see any action in practice while Crawford was back at it. Making things more interesting, the Blackhawks called up Alexander Salak from the AHL, but whose spot is he potentially taking?

The Blackhawks’ competition for the backup job during training camp turned into a good one for the organization because now they’ve got three goalies that can get worked into a game without issue. The injury problem here, however, is the primary concern.

If it’s Crawford and his wonky groin, that’s a big problem for Chicago as they’re banking on Crawford to be their go-to guy in goal. If it’s Emery, that’s a softer blow to absorb given Emery’s past injury issues means that any team keeping him on board now has to have someone competent in the pipeline behind him. Salak, while young, is capable of handling the backup job in Chicago if needed.

Still, this isn’t the kind of issue Quenneville wants to have come up at all. If Crawford’s groin turns into a bigger issue, an Emery-Salak pairing puts the Blackhawks in a tough spot.

And Chicago’s backup goalie this year will be…

Ray Emery

Ray Emery headed into Chicago’s training camp this year on a tryout basis hoping to show that his bounce back from a nearly career-ending hip injury last year with Anaheim wasn’t just a fluke.

Mission: Accomplished.

Emery signed a one-year, one-way $600,000 deal with Chicago this afternoon locking him in to be the backup goalie for Corey Crawford in the Windy City. Emery’s competitor for the job in camp, young prospect Alexander Salak, was sent down to AHL Rockford to become the IceHogs starting goalie and wait things out in case either Crawford or Emery gets hurt.

While Salak put up better numbers than Emery during the preseason, GM Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville are erring on the side of caution and going with the veteran over the rookie. It’s a move that makes perfectly logical sense as Salak could use a lot more game action in North America after playing abroad last year. Salak does have a year of AHL experience under his belt, but just two games in the NHL. Advantage, Emery.

Emery’s comeback from a degenerative hip condition that threatened to end his career is inspiring. Here’s to hoping good things continue to come out of this for him in Chicago.

Chicago closes preseason with lots of personnel decisions left to make

Brandon Pirri

Chicago heads into their final preseason game this afternoon against the Washington Capitals and while most teams will have their lineups figured out for the most part, the Blackhawks have a bit more work to get done.

In goal they’ve got a competition going on between Ray Emery and Alexander Salak to see who ends up being the backup goalie behind Corey Crawford. Emery is the wily veteran with the wonky hip that he’s continuing to come back from while Salak is the youngster with swagger and attitude looking to land his first NHL job.

Salak’s numbers are a little better than Emery’s and while Emery does have a bit of an embarrassing goal allowed in his last game against Pittsburgh, Tracey Myers of CSNChicago.com believes that Emery’s experience gives him the edge.

The Blackhawks will probably still go with Emery, allowing Salak to hone his skills in Rockford. They like Emery’s veteran status and NHL experience. And the game results could still come. But remember, Blackhawks: the last two guys who started the season as backups, Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford, didn’t have so much NHL experience. They didn’t turn out so bad, either.

Elsewhere on the ice, Chicago is taking a look at Patrick Kane playing center on the second line and while he’s coming back from wrist surgery, he’s showing a different level of play up the middle. Kane’s ability to make plays as well as score goals and wheel around defenders gives him a special something else to his game.

Then there’s what they’ll do about their depth forward spots. We talked the other day about how 2011 second round pick Brandon Saad is fighting his way into the opening night lineup thanks to injuries to Ben Smith and Viktor Stalberg, but there’s another young Brandon making a case for himself as well.

2009 second round pick Brandon Pirri is also making noise late into training camp this year and his offensive skills are showing that the slick skating kid out of Rensselaer in the NCAA is growing into a potential offensive threat. Pirri had two goals and an assist against Detroit and Ty Conklin last Sunday and on Friday night against Pittsburgh he added another two goals beating Brent Johnson in a 3-2 loss to the Penguins. While neither Pirri nor Saad are going to get time on the Blackhawks’ top two lines, if they can add that sort of production and be defensively responsible on the third or fourth lines, the Hawks will welcome it with Stalberg and Smith out of action.

Myers finds out from Quenneville that he’s taking notice of both Brandons.

“We didn’t mind (Pirri’s) game. Offensively, he had a couple real nice looks all alone as well as his production there. He’s got some skill, he’s been a producer his whole life and he sees plays. I think he’s patient in his game, and has nice finish around the net. It’s been a nice camp for him.”

Saad, who has played in every preseason game, had a secondary assist on Pirri’s first goal on Friday.

“He does a lot of good things,” Quenneville said of Saad. “He’s played a lot of games here and we still think he does a lot of good things.”

With these decisions all hanging in the balance heading into today’s game, the make up of the Blackhawks will be curious to see when it comes to opening night against Dallas this week.

Can Corey Crawford avoid the dreaded sophomore slump?

Chicago Blackhawks v Vancouver Canucks - Game Seven

The last we saw of Corey Crawford, he was skating off the ice in Vancouver after Alex Burrows buried the series-clinching goal over his blocker in overtime of Game 7. The Canucks went on to get within 60 minutes of their first Stanley Cup in franchise history; while the Blackhawks were sent home trying to figure out what went wrong in the season they were supposed to defend Lord Stanley’s chalice. Slow starts, lack of motivation at the beginning of the season, or an injury in the playoffs. Plenty of people had plenty of answers. But one of the biggest question marks going into the season evolved into one of the team’s strengths by the end of the season.

The NHL was introduced to Corey Crawford.

With the early exit of 2010-11 in the rearview mirror, Crawford looks to build on the momentum he created for himself in the second half of last season. He came into camp as Marty Turco’s back-up—at best he hoped to platoon with the former Dallas Stars netminder. But it only took a couple of months to show the Hawks coaching staff that he gave the team the best opportunity to win on a nightly basis. By the end of the season, he had 33 wins, a .917 save percentage, 2.30 goals against, and was viewed by many to be a viable Calder Trophy candidate. But that was last year.

There’s a difference between competing for a place on the team and understanding that the starting job is already a done-deal. Last season, he was competing just to turn himself into an NHL goaltender on an NHL roster. Now that particular fuel is gone with the thirst for an NHL job freshly quenched. Will he be able to find the same drive while he tries to take the next step from pleasant surprise to the man that the entire organization is depending on this season? Crawford has already spoken about the difference this training camp:

“There is a little bit different feeling. It’s nice to know you have a three-year deal coming into camp, but at the same time I’m so focused to earn that ice time and show the guys – even the new guys – that you’re the guy to gain their confidence.”

He’s not the only one who has confidence that he’ll be able to put up a repeat performance this season. Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville expects the same type of performance from his young netminder this season. In fact, he expects him to be even better.

“He really shouldered a lot for us last year,” Quenneville said. “He was consistent in big games and big settings. Nothing changes his approach and you’ve got to commend him for doing that. We see him only growing from those levels. He can continue to improve and hopefully elevate his game to become a top goaltender in our League.”

Surely the same thing was said about Steve Mason after his Calder Trophy winning rookie season in Columbus. The trick for Crawford will be to carry the same drive he had when he was trying to make the NHL this season. No longer is he simply trying to make the team—he has that part down. Now he’s trying to improve into a goaltender that will be around for years to come. For young players, and goaltenders in particular, it’s easier said than done.

Professional athletes aren’t trained to think about failure. If they put in the work, by and large they will succeed. That’s why they’re in the NHL to begin with. But sometimes younger players forget all of the hard work that it takes to get to the NHL and let the offseason training slip a bit in the offseason once they’ve accomplished themselves. We’ll see if Crawford can perform for the Hawks like he did last season. If he can improve upon his numbers last season, Chicago will be a dangerous team in the Western Conference. If not, they better figure that back-up goaltending role in a hurry.