Funny how the NHL’s goaltending landscape can shift in a short period of time.
Only a week ago, the Chicago Blackhawks were in crisis mode between the pipes, with neither Corey Crawford nor Ray Emery doing much to inspire confidence in the players in front of him. Coach Joel Quenneville kept coming back to Crawford because of how well Crawford played in his rookie NHL season (33-18-6, 2.30 GAA), theorizing that as long as he showed confidence in him, Crawford would eventually play himself out of the doldrums.
But then Quenneville pulled Crawford in the Leaf game last week and Emery came on to play the final 40 minutes in the 5-4 come-from-behind win over Toronto that sealed coach Ron Wilson’s fate and stemmed the bleeding in Chicago. Emery won his next two starts, including a key 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators, his first NHL team; and then the biggie, 23 saves Sunday against the Blackhawks’ biggest rivals, the Detroit Red Wings, who have fallen off in the last little while. Who knew Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom could mean so much to one team?
So Emery’s numbers are close to respectable now, after a 3-0 week and a 1.13 GAA to earn the NHL’s third star of the week, and it will be interesting to see what happens next. Emery saved the day for the Anaheim Ducks last year, after Jonas Hiller was lost to vertigo. It was his strong play down the stretch (7-2), after spending much of the year in the minors, that helped the Ducks catch a playoff spot.
The one thing you can say about Quenneville is, he’s fluid and flexible when it comes to netminders. In 2010, when the Blackhawks won it all, goaltending was an issue too. Cristobal Huet got every chance to hold down the starters’ spot, but when it became clear that Antti Niemi gave them a better chance to win, Quenneville switched to the Finnish rookie and it paid off in a Stanley Cup championship. If Emery keeps it going, it wouldn’t be a shock for Quenneville to stay with the hot hand, and turn the job over to the nominal backup. Unlike some coaches, he's not afraid to make a bold move when necessary.