Throughout the month of July, Madhouse Enforcer will be taking a look at various members of the 2013 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. What did they do right? What did they do wrong? What can they improve upon next season? We’ll answer all those questions and more in the lead-up to Blackhawks Convention, which starts July 26th.
The subject of today’s evaluation is departed goaltender Ray Emery.
Some goaltenders thrive only when their teams aren’t giving up a lot shots. Others play better when they are constantly being bombarded with shots, rather than when opportunities to make saves are few and far between.
Emery was able to succeed in both types of games this season, and his consistency was definitely his biggest asset.
Early on in the campaign, Emery dealt with a bunch of stern tests. He stopped 29 shots against the Vancouver Canucks in a 4-3 shootout victory on February 19th, and then three days later shut down the San Jose Sharks by making 26 saves in a 2-1 win.
He also took advantage of his defense at times as well, calmly stopping all 15 shots he faced in 40 minutes of work against the St. Louis Blues on February 28th. March 26th against the Calgary Flames was another example, with Emery pitching a 16 save shutout.
Emery also played well despite getting inconsistent playing time, excluding a run in late February when Corey Crawford was injured. The aforementioned performance against the Flames came after an eight day layoff, and he followed that performance up with a 20 save shutout against the Nashville Predators eight days later.
That ability to play well with varying levels of defensive support, as well as a workload that was never really consistent, is the hallmark of a true pro, and Emery fits that bill.
It’s hard to criticize a player who went 17-1 during the season, but Emery does have one question about his game that will need to be answered as he heads to the Philadelphia Flyers: is his lateral movement up to par?
Emery’s return from avascular necrosis (the same degenerative hip disease that put the brakes on Bo Jackson’s career) has been talked about at length throughout his recovery, and his comeback has been nothing short of remarkable.
The only concern for him is going to simply be one of the amount of extra work he will have to do behind a defense that isn’t as stingy as Chicago’s. Will he be able to make his way from post to post with the kind of efficiency required of an NHL goaltender, or will his hip issues creep in again?
Only time will tell, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he passed that test with flying colors.
Best Game of 2013:
There are few players whose best games are blatantly obvious, but with Emery, there is no question that his performance on February 2nd against the Calgary Flames was his best effort.
In that game, in only his second start of the season, Emery stopped 45 shots as the Hawks took advantage of a VERY late goal by Marian Hossa to tie things up, and then won in a shootout thanks once again to Emery’s efforts.
The performance set the tone for Emery’s season, and was really the first time that the Hawks realized that they could potentially have the most dynamic goaltending tandem in the league.
How Will the Blackhawks Replace Him?
The Blackhawks signed goaltender Antti Raanta during the postseason, and there were rumors that he would be Crawford’s back-up in the event that Emery left.
Instead, GM Stan Bowman struck on the first day of free agency and inked veteran keeper (and former Blackhawk) Nikolai Khabibulin to a 1-year, $2 million deal to be the Hawks’ back-up goalie. Odds are that he won’t see a ton of action in place of Crawford, but the Hawks will likely look at him to play between 20-25 games or so.
He won’t be expected to produce at Emery’s level, but that’s all well and good for the Hawks. They have indicated they are fully handing the reins over to Crawford for the first time, and if his performance in the playoffs is any indication, then he is ready to shoulder the bulk of the workload.