Can Ray Emery be the backup goalie the Blackhawks need?

The Chicago Blackhawks are going into training camp with a lot of big storylines to keep an eye on. From Patrick Kane’s recovery from wrist surgery to seeing how their host of new, tough players blend in, camp is going to be fun to keep an eye on with the Hawks.

Perhaps the most interesting set up centers around a guy in camp on a tryout. Former Ducks goalie Ray Emery couldn’t land a full-blown contract this summer, but Chicago GM Stan Bowman is bringing him in on a tryout and he’s got a great opportunity to secure the backup job behind incumbent starter Corey Crawford.

Emery is hoping that he has put his hip problems behind him and that he can, again, show that he’s capable of playing at an NHL-caliber level in goal the way he showed glimpses of in Anaheim last year. CSNChicago’s Tracey Myers gets the straight talk from a very hopeful Emery.

Emery has dealt with the doubts about his health. Now he’s ready to show how confident he is in his game.

“Even after (last season) finished I took a month off and felt a lot of improvement in my hip where I had the operation. I slowly but surely realized I wasn’t thinking about my injury. I was just able to concentrate on playing hockey. I wasn’t able to do that last year,” he said. “I’m excited. I feel pretty good.”

Emery won’t have to worry about going up against Marty Turco for the job but rather confident youngster Alexander Salak. Salak was picked up in the Michal Frolik deal last year from Florida and while Salak’s ceiling is high as a prospect, after spending last year in Sweden, he may not be ready for NHL action.

Then again, while playing for Farjestads in the Swedish Elite League, Salak put up some fascinating numbers. In 32 games, Salak put up a 1.97 goals against average with a .926 save percentage as well as 41 penalty minutes. He’s confident, borderline cocky, and isn’t afraid to let opponents know what he thinks of him as he showed while playing for the Rochester Americans against Syracuse two years ago.

Salak boosted his record to 6-0 against the Crunch this year, in-between mocking a goal judge, taunting Crunch players and then rubbing the win in fans’ faces by skating off with the exaggerated fist pumps of a goalie who had just won the Calder Cup.

“Better to be villain than hero here,” Salak said. “Why not (celebrate)? We won the game. They (the fans) were getting all over us. We can celebrate for 10 seconds then.”

If Salak can outplay Emery in camp, every game he gets into in the NHL will be on high alert for phony moral outrage from the pundits. That said, if Emery can show he’s capable of playing well and handling the workload, the Blackhawks will be better off for it. While Crawford looked outstanding last year in goal, sometimes young goalies slump after a big year. Having an experienced and tested guy like Emery would help give Chicago the one-two punch in goal that Stanley Cup challengers can bank on.

Elvis thrives: Merzlikins is on fire for Blue Jackets

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Elvis Merzlikins advanced a bold goal lately: to be more than just a funny name. He is leaving opponents all shook  up absolutely red-hot for the Columbus Blue Jackets right now.

Elvis absolutely hound-dogged shut out the New Jersey Devils in Columbus’ 5-0 on Saturday, and that 41-save performance was far from his first standout evening. Merzlikins generated three shutouts in his last four games, allowing just two goals overall. The Blue Jackets won all four of those games.

(OK, this post includes enough cheesy Elvis jokes … arguably.)

During seven appearances between October and November, the 25-year-old goalie languished with sub-.900 save percentages. Since then, he’s started to take off.

Some “too perfect” moments for Elvis Merzlikins and the Blue Jackets

Maybe Merzlikins made a New Year’s Eve resolution to dominate? Perhaps it was because Elvis asked reporters to leave him alone? Merzlikins suffered only two losses since Dec. 31, winning eight of 10 games.

The lights-out play already makes the story endearing, but there are notes of the surreal. Consider a few facts about his hot streak:

“That’s what you like about him. He’s strong mentally,” Tortorella said after the Jan. 11 Vegas shutout, via Rob Mixer of First Ohio Battery. “He’s a piece of work as far as his personality, which I like. A lot of things have been thrown at him here…but he’s handled himself really well. I’m happy for him.”

  • Merzlikins ended up making it back-to-back shutouts, as he also blanked the Bruins with a 34-save shutout. His three shutouts have upped the ante each time: first 27 saves, then 34, then 41 against the Devils on Saturday.

Tortorella deserves ample credit for creating a cocoon for his goalies, of course.

Regardless, Merzlikins is playing a big role in helping the Blue Jackets stay in the East wild-card races. Here’s hoping that our jokes rise up the charts or we might just need to leave the building.

(Sorry. I’m so, so sorry.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Hat trick helps Ovechkin pass Lemieux, tie Yzerman for ninth on NHL goals list

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An historic week for Alex Ovechkin was capped off with a hat trick Saturday afternoon during a 6-4 win over the Islanders. His three goals pushes him past Mario Lemieux and into ninth place with 692, tying him with Steve Yzerman.

Ovechkin opened the scoring and then passed Mario Lemieux for 10th all-time in the third period as the Capitals mounted their comeback. He ended his day with an empty-netter to seal the win and tie Yzerman. The Islanders led 4-1 entering the third period.

Powered by two consecutive hat tricks, Ovechkin has eight goals in his last three games and 10 in his previous six.

That’s now three consecutive multi-goal games for Ovechkin, the first time he’s done that in his career. Earlier this week he not only passed Teemu Selanne for 11th on the all-time goals list but also hit the 30-goal mark for the 15th time in his career. He, along with Jaromir Jagr and Mike Gartner, are the only players to ever record 15 consecutive 30-goal seasons.

With three goals Saturday — the third time he’s recorded hat tricks in consecutive games — Ovechkin now has 34 on the season as he eyes a ninth 50-goal season. His hat trick was the 26th of his NHL career, tying him with Maurice Richard for eighth all-time.

Next in Ovechkin’s sights? Mark Messier, who finished with 694 goals in his career.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Stars’ Stephen Johns activated after missing almost 22 months

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Dallas Stars activated Stephen Johns before their game Saturday night in Minnesota, clearing the way for the defenseman’s first game in almost 22 months.

Forward Radek Faksa was placed on injured reserve to make room for Johns on the active roster.

Johns has been out since late in the 2017-18 season because of post-traumatic headaches. The Stars have said the condition isn’t related to concussions.

The 27-year-old Johns hasn’t played since March 29, 2018, at the Wild. It was the last of a career-high 75 games in his third NHL season. Johns missed the last five games that year before sitting out all of last season as headaches persisted.

He played two games on a conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars of the AHL before rejoining Dallas on Thursday.

The return of Johns could coincide with the Stars’ first game without defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The 20-year-old standout left Thursday’s loss to Buffalo with an upper-body injury.

Johns made his debut for Dallas late in the 2014-15 season and played in all 13 of the team’s playoff games as a rookie. He has 13 goals, 15 assists and 306 blocked shots in 150 career regular-season games.

Panthers down another goalie, injured Driedger to miss weeks

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Florida goalie Chris Driedger will miss several weeks with what’s believed to be a groin injury, the latest health issue at that position for the Panthers.

The Panthers announced the diagnosis Saturday, calling it a lower-body injury.

Driedger was hurt midway through the first period of the Panthers’ 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. He is 5-2-0 in nine appearances for Florida this season, with a 2.48 GAA.

The Panthers have also been without goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for much of January while he recovers from an upper-body injury.

Florida begins a stretch of six consecutive road games Saturday in Detroit. That six-game run also includes the All-Star break and the Panthers’ bye week.