Cross Checks: Ray Emery

NEW YORK -- As much as goaltending has been heralded as an X factor for the Philadelphia Flyers in their first-round series against the New York Rangers, injury replacement Ray Emery has more than just held his own between the pipes.

Making consecutive starts for the first time this season with regular starter Steve Mason on the shelf with an upper-body injury, Emery has given the Flyers what they need: a chance to win.

Could Flyers coach Craig Berube have a tough decision on his hands once Mason is healthy and ready to play?

"I'm not really thinking that far ahead," Berube said following Sunday’s 4-2 win against the Rangers.

Thursday Emery was strong in the first 48 minutes of play before an ill-advised double-minor penalty put the Flyers down a man for four minutes. On Sunday, he made 31 saves and held the Rangers to two goals in an important victory that sent the series back to Philadelphia with the two teams tied 1-1.

"We don't win that game without Razor," said captain Claude Giroux after the game. "He was solid. He's a competitor."

Emery also surrendered only one power-play goal despite the Flyers being down a man six times for a total of 11:27.

"He's a battler. Always has been," said Berube. "I've known Ray for a while. We had him here before. He stayed with it. He's very good at that. He's a true pro."

While thrust into the starting role after Mason went down following a collision during a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins last weekend, Emery is no novice. The 31-year-old goaltender has ample playoff experience from his previous time spent playing with the Ottawa Senators and Anaheim Ducks. He also backed up Corey Crawford on the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks last season.

"It's great to play in the playoffs," Emery said. "As a player, that's when you really want to play. I'm fortunate to be in there."

Mason skated for the third consecutive day Sunday before the team's game. He is expected to practice again on Monday, barring any setbacks from the injury.

"I'm assuming," Berube said of Mason being expected to skate again Monday. "But we'll see."

Though he has been asked several times, Mason has declined to reveal whether he is suffering from a concussion. On Friday, he revealed that he has had two concussions previously.

Mason has not made a playoff appearance since his Columbus Blue Jackets were swept in the first round of the Western Conference quarterfinals by the Detroit Red Wings during his rookie season in 2009.

The 25-year-old Mason, who earned a three-year contract extension with the Flyers earlier this season, said he is aiming to return for Game 3 on Tuesday.
NEW YORK -- And we have ourselves a series, folks.

Following a 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1, the New York Rangers had the chance to secure a two-game lead at Madison Square Garden, siphon all confidence from the Flyers and send them back to Philadelphia with doubts about whether they could knock off their divisional foe in the best-of-seven set.

They didn’t.

[+] EnlargeJakub Voracek
Paul Bereswill/Getty ImagesFour unanswered goals sunk the Rangers in Game 2.
Instead, the Rangers let a two-goal lead in the first period disappear as a resilient Flyers squad rattled off four unanswered goals to snap a nine-game losing streak at MSG with a 4-2 win Sunday afternoon. The two teams now head to Philly for Game 3 in what promises to be hostile territory for the Blueshirts at Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday.

“We knew they were going to come back and play a better game than last time. It’s going to be a close race,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who gave up three goals on 24 shots. “We didn’t expect this to be easy.”

And it won’t be, if Sunday’s matinee was any indication. Staring down a 2-0 hole after the Rangers exploited some wide-open passing lanes and took advantage of the Flyers’ lack of discipline, Philadelphia surged back with the help of its first line.

Rendered ineffective for the most part on Thursday, the Flyers' top trio of Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek got the team on the board off the rush late in the first period and didn’t look back. The Flyers' penalty kill was stellar, limiting the Rangers to just one man-up marker on six power-play attempts. Backup netminder Ray Emery, who was replacing injured starter Steve Mason, was solid in net, making 31 saves to record his first win of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Flyers raised their level of play, as the Rangers expected they would.

“This is a good team. By no means did we think this was going to be an easy series,” said veteran forward Martin St. Louis, who scored his first playoff goal as a New York Ranger on a sharp-angle shot 4:08 into play. “We know we have to be better. We knew that they were going to be better after Game 1, and they were.”

In recent years, the Rangers have shown difficulty in closing out a series quickly, even after taking Game 1. In the 2012 playoffs, the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers took the series opener of both their quarterfinal set against the Ottawa Senators and their semifinal matchup against the Washington Capitals. It took the Rangers seven games to win both series, raising the question of whether fatigue was a factor in the team’s Eastern Conference finals loss to the New Jersey Devils that spring.

Last spring, the Rangers fell down 2-0 before edging the Capitals in seven games. They were then bounced in a matter of five in the second round, outclassed by the dominant Boston Bruins.

New York couldn’t convert on the chances it had to close out Sunday’s game, and the Flyers responded with that needed sense of opportunism.

How much did that hurt the team in the end?

“They were very big,” alternate captain Brad Richards said of the team’s missed opportunities. “We had some power plays tonight that we didn’t get done. We had some point-blank chances that Emery made some big saves on. It could go either way in some of those situations. They seemed to be very opportunistic on their chances, and they won.”

Buckle up. These teams may be in for a lengthy battle.
NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers squandered a 2-0 lead as the Philadelphia Flyers rallied from behind with four unanswered goals for a 4-2 win over the Blueshirts on Sunday that tied the series 1-1 and sends the two teams back to Philly for Game 3 at Wells Fargo Center.

An undisciplined and defensively porous Flyers team was exposed in the first period, but recovered in the second to become the aggressors in the latter half of the game.

Philly's penalty-killing effort was superb, limiting the Rangers to just one goal in six power-play opportunities for New York. Anchoring the Flyers in net, backup netminder Ray Emery delivered a fine 31-save performance to prove himself capable of handling the load with regular starter Steve Mason on the shelf with injury.

Mason, who has missed the first two games of the series, is hoping to make his return in Game 3, but Flyers coach Craig Berube may have a difficult decision on his hands once Mason returns to good health.

Redemption shot: Flyers rookie forward Jason Akeson got a sweet taste of redemption Sunday afternoon, with his rebound goal on a gaping net to knot the score at 2 in the second period. Akeson had a rough night in his NHL playoff debut in Game 1 on Thursday, taking a double-minor high-sticking penalty on Carl Hagelin that resulted in a pair of power-play goals for the Rangers. Nonetheless, Flyers coach Craig Berube expressed faith in the youngster, going right back to him on Sunday. Akeson started the game with linemates Matt Read and center Sean Couturier and continued to receive power-play time as well. His power-play marker at 5:45 on Sunday was his second career goal in only his fourth NHL game.

Fast and loose: The NHL’s most penalized team through the regular season was, unsurprisingly, not very disciplined once again. The Flyers gave the Rangers’ special teams plenty of work in the beginning of the game, putting them on the power play three times in the opening frame, twice on ill-advised offensive-zone penalties. The Blueshirts capitalized on only one of those man-up opportunities, when Benoit Pouliot’s flubbed shot from the right circle beat Emery for a two-goal lead at 8:22. That goal highlighted another major problem area for the Flyers: They gave the Rangers entirely too much room on the ice to execute the type of cross-ice feeds that set up Pouliot and resulted in Martin St. Louis’ first playoff goal of the series earlier in the period. The Flyers failed to clog up the passing lanes and paid for it dearly as the Blueshirts jumped out to a 2-0 lead.

There they are: Largely ineffective in Game 1, the Flyers’ first line came alive late in the first period with an expert rush that allowed them to cut the Rangers’ lead in half at 2-1. Sprung by linemate Scott Hartnell, skilled winger Jakub Voracek blew past defenseman Ryan McDonagh (how rarely does that happen?) and beat Lundqvist for his third career playoff goal with 5:46 remaining in the first period. Voracek and first-line center Claude Giroux were both held without a shot in Game 1 on Thursday.
Ramblings from observations of around the NHL:

Are Flyers For Real?: The Philadelphia Flyers are an impressive 5-0-1 in their past six games and have dragged themselves from the depths of the Eastern Conference to being just four points back of the second wild-card spot as of Friday morning and with a game in hand. But a cautionary note: The Flyers' streak has included two wins over a struggling Ottawa team that might be among the worst teams in the league right now and a win over a Buffalo team that is without peer in its awfulness, while losing the extra point in a shootout to the ordinary Winnipeg Jets. The only legitimate team beaten during this stretch was with a 2-1 win over archrival Pittsburgh at a time when the Pens' offense had curiously gone dry. Points are points and kudos to head coach Craig Berube for getting his team into a position where it is picking up points, regardless of the opponent. The rest of the month suggests a similar path, with dates against the New York Islanders, Florida, slumping Tampa, the Jets again and Nashville. Only Tampa currently owns a playoff berth and the Lightning are riding a three-game losing streak in the absence of top player Steven Stamkos. In short, time for the Flyers to continue to make hay while the sun shines on their schedule, if indeed they've turned a corner.

The Ups With Downie: ESPN colleague Barry Melrose has repeatedly pointed to the much-ballyhooed scrap with the Washington Capitals (you remember, Ray Emery pounding on Braden Holtby) as the catalyst to the Flyers' turnaround. With all due respect to Coach, the more likely the catalyst to the turnaround has been the arrival of Steve Downie from Colorado. The deal that saw Downie return to the team that drafted him in exchange for Max Talbot still smacks of an untold back story (it has been reported a preseason feud with captain Gabriel Landeskog was the impetus) but good on GM Paul Holmgren for getting a tough, skilled player to help a team that lacked both those qualities in the early going. Downie's first game after the trade was in that Washington debacle and saw him leave with an injury. But since returning to the Flyer lineup, Downie has collected five assists in five games, none of which the Flyers have lost (4-0-1).

Brind'Amour Is Hall-Worthy: During my recent trip to Raleigh, N.C., I ran into former captain Rod Brind'Amour, who is, along with Dave Lewis and John MacLean, part of head coach Kirk Muller's staff. Someone wondered aloud why Brind'Amour's name rarely comes up during conversations about the Hall of Fame. It's a fair question, and a closer look at Brind'Amour's accomplishments suggests he should be in the mix. The hard-nosed center was for a long period one of the game's premier two-way forwards in the game, twice winning the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the league. He was no slouch with the puck either, collecting 1,184 points in 1,484 games, scoring 452 goals. In the postseason, Brind'Amour brought game as well, with 51 goals and 111 points in 159 games. Perhaps more notably, Brind'Amour was the glue guy in Carolina, helping transform a struggling team in a non-traditional market into a powerhouse, guiding the team as captain to their only Stanley Cup championship, in 2006. If intangibles are part of the mix when defining the line between outstanding and Hall of Fame, Brind'Amour deserves to be in the Hall.

Faulk's Making a Case: One of the interesting battles shaping up for the U.S. Olympic team is along the blue line with a bevy of young, talented puck-movers looking to secure a trip to Sochi. Among the players whose stock continues to rise is Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk, who is a product of the U.S. National Team development program in Ann Arbor, Mich., and who was a member of the all-rookie team in 2012. Like all of those in contention, especially those who weren't part of the U.S. effort in Vancouver, Faulk is trying to ignore the external buzz about where his stock might or might not be. "You'd be lying if you said it doesn't go through anyone's head," the St. Paul, Minn., native told this week. "Turn on NHL Network and some nights and it's Olympics, Olympics, Sochi. So, obviously, it's there, people talk about it and it is what it is. If I go out there and can play my game and can put myself in a position to make the team, that's all that matters, not what he or she says on TV. That's all I can control, so that's really the extent of my thinking about it I guess." Does he worry about who's watching when he has an off night? "Just hope all of your good nights are against Pittsburgh or something, right?" Faulk said, jokingly referring to the fact head coach Dan Bylsma, assistant coach Tony Granato and GM Ray Shero are all integrally involved in the selection process of the U.S. team.

Left Wondering About Booth: Hard not to watch what’s happening with David Booth in Vancouver and wonder, what if? Booth has been a healthy scratch for the Canucks and has managed just one goal this season to go along with the single goal he delivered last season, in spite of the fact his six-year contract comes with an annual cap hit of $4.25 million. He's been sent to the Canucks' American Hockey League affiliate for conditioning as he tries to recover from ankle and groin issues, but nothing seems to have worked and his return to the big club seems in doubt with both head coach John Tortorella and GM Mike Gillis suggesting this week nothing is imminent. Still, you wonder what might have been for Booth had he not been the subject of a devastating blindside hit courtesy of Mike Richards, then of the Philadelphia Flyers, when Booth was skating for the Florida Panthers early in the 2009-10 season. The head-hunting blow on Oct. 24, 2009, saw Booth removed from the ice on a stretcher and his career thrown into disarray. A shoo-in to make the U.S. Olympic team in Vancouver, Booth was never in the hunt after the hit. He rebounded to score 23 times in 2010-11 but following his trade to Vancouver in October 2011, Booth's productivity continued to decline as other injuries mounted. Maybe you can't draw a direct line from the Richards' hit to Booth's current status as a player in limbo, but it's hard not to wonder how his career might have gone had he not been the target of the kind of hit that led directly to the NHL changing rules regarding hits on unsuspecting players.

Outdoor Wonderland: We have never lined up with the throngs that have hammered the NHL for allowing its outdoor games to multiply like so many rabbits. Yes, six outdoor games, starting with the Winter Classic between Detroit and Toronto on Jan. 1 at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., is a lot. But we've bought the league's rationale that each of these games represents something unique in widely diverse markets from Detroit to New York, where all three local teams will get a chance to play at Yankee Stadium during Super Bowl week, to the highly anticipated game at Dodger Stadium, not to mention games at Soldier Field and B.C. Place. Now, we trust the NHL will scale these events back next season, but as long as the tickets go like hotcakes -- and there is no evidence thus far that they won't -- we don't buy the "Oh, it'll water down the product" argument for this season. That said, we arched our eyebrows when the NHL announced this week it will pump these outdoor games up with a seven-part series of documentaries focusing on star players taking part in the so-called Stadium Series (those outside the Winter Classic). For us, the marriage between HBO's "24/7" documentary series and the Winter Classic, one that continues with a series focused on the Red Wings and Leafs, has been magical because it has captured the sometimes raw, sometimes comical, often emotional inner workings of the game in a pure, unadulterated presentation. Much of the magic was in not having the interplay between coaches and players, players and opponents, on-ice officials and team officials bleeped out or censored. Given the different standards for obscenity that NBC Sports and its Canadian partners in this enterprise bring to the table, it's hard to imagine the product won't be any different than the many in-house "documentaries" produced by teams around the NHL that show players in their kitchens or going out to dinner. If so, these offerings will be easy to ignore, which will only add to the widely held belief the NHL has killed the outdoor goose.

Emotional Moments: As an aside, the one element of this multipronged documentary project that we love is that the series will follow players on an arc that takes us through the Sochi Olympic Games, including intimate looks at the dynamic that exists between teammates in the NHL, such as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, who will face each other with medals on the line in Sochi. It's hard for people to get a handle on how much the Olympic experience means to these players, regardless of which country's jersey they wear, and a series like this might bring home that emotion in an unprecedented fashion. Given the ambiguity with which the NHL as a whole views the Olympic experience (OK, most owners hate with a deep and powerful passion that the league shuts down to take part every four years ), this kind of exposure might soften that view and help pave the way for continued participation.

No supplemental discipline coming for Ray Emery for his fight against Braden Holtby in Friday night's brawl-marred Philadelphia Flyers-Washington Capitals game. The NHL looked at everything, discussed it internally for 24 hours, but there's just nothing in current rule book allowing for any supplemental discipline for that fight. The league didn't like what it saw last night but nothing it can do.

I do think it's the kind of incident, however, that will spur more debate/conversation at GMs meeting Nov. 12 and beyond.

One idea, for example, that one might be suggested to be added to the rule book: should a goalie be automatically suspended for leaving his crease to fight another goalie? Just a thought.

Summer wonder: Around the league

August, 2, 2013
Nathan Horton, David Clarkson and Daniel AlfredssonGetty ImagesBig things are expected out of big-buck signings Nathan Horton, David Clarkson and Daniel Alfredsson.

Let's end this week of questions with a lightning round, and that's not a reference to the team based in Tampa. Here we go. Give us your biggest question for 2013-14 in the comments section.

Daniel Alfredsson in Detroit: Does Alfredsson, 40, have enough left in the tank to make a difference in the Motor City? He will get every opportunity to prove he was worth the gamble by the Red Wings and will do his darndest to win a Stanley Cup and prove the Senators were messing with him all those years.

Vincent Lecavalier in Philadelphia: Lecavalier, 33, isn't as washed up as some people believe. It just feels like he's been in the league forever because he started so young. He has won a Stanley Cup and will be similarly motivated to show people he still has something left. But he won't be as good as the Flyers need him to be or as Flyers fans expect him to be (tough crowd), especially while carrying a $4.5 million cap hit.

Ray Emery in Philadelphia: Montreal, Toronto and Philly are the toughest markets on goalies. Emery, 30, will do well but won't live up to lofty expectations. Again, tough market. Two reasons he could prove me wrong: He's still got a lot of hockey left in him, and he's on a one-year deal at a reasonable $1.65 million.

Jaromir Jagr in New Jersey: Jagr, 41, loves the game, and it's loving him right back. But can you imagine him thriving while playing for Lou Lamoriello? Neither can I.

David Clarkson in Toronto: Man, tough go there. Clarkson, 29, says Wendel Clark was his idol growing up and many Leafs fans are going to want a similar level of play. No disrespect intended, but Clarkson is a solid 15- to 20-goal scorer at his top end who will be a $5.25 million cap hit in his first season. He's no Wendel Clark (few are).

Matt Cooke in Minnesota: Not going to work. Cooke, 34, is not a good value at $2.5 million, especially on that team.

Andrew Ference in Edmonton: Ference, 34, still has some game left in him and is the kind of defenseman the Oilers have been seeking for years. He will help that young dressing room hit the mature button a lot sooner than it would have without him. This is a great move for the Oilers.

Valtteri Filppula in Tampa: Filppula, 29, will have the same cap hit on the Lightning ($5 million) as Ryan Kessler does for the Canucks and James Neal does for the Penguins. Which player would you rather spend that cash on?

Nathan Horton in Columbus: If his shoulder surgery heals properly, Horton could be a catalyst for the Blue Jackets. The biggest issue will be to see how he adapts to not having Milan Lucic and David Krejci making room for him every game.

Jarome Iginla in Boston: Iginla, 36, will like being in the Eastern Conference, with all its relatively cushy travel, and is one of the best guys in all of sports. But, sadly, it appears his better days are behind him, so a $6 million cap hit is outright robbery.

Dustin Penner in Anaheim: Penner, 30, was a frequent healthy scratch with the Kings last season, is on a one-year contract and could be on his way to further marginalization if he doesn't step it up.

Mike Ribeiro in Phoenix: Ribiero, 33, is on his third team in three seasons and clearly wants to show what he's capable of when not playing one the same side as the most talented winger in the game (Alex Ovechkin, by the way). It is an odd choice, though, considering that the Coyotes' lack of talent likely will result in lower numbers. Still, it's nice to see a team owned by the league support the PA with such a crazy-good contract ($5.5 million cap hit) for a player who has topped 80 points just once.

Michael Ryder in New Jersey: Ryder, 33, is usually good for 30 goals every season, which means he'll probably get 25 on the Devils. He's on his fourth team in five seasons, though, which is a concern.

Viktor Stalberg in Nashville: Stalberg, 27, wasn't going to get that kind of coin ($3 million cap hit) from the Blackhawks, but he is talented and has a chance to show his former team that he would have been worth it by signing with a team in the same division. He'll put up decent numbers with lots of ice time.

Stephen Weiss in Detroit: People likened Weiss to Steve Yzerman when he broke into the league, so this is a full circle of sorts. Weiss, 30, should fit well into the Red Wings' way of thinking. GM Ken Holland doesn't spend that kind of money ($4.9 million cap hit, fourth on the team) very often, so you know he's scoped this out from all angles.

Ray Emery, can you do that again?

July, 26, 2013
Ray EmeryBruce Bennett/Getty ImagesThe Flyers sure hope Ray Emery will take his Cup-winning mojo with him.

To say Ray Emery has had an interesting career is like saying the Kardashians don't mind having their picture taken. Yes, a bit of an understatement. Heading into 2011-12, Emery was pretty much an afterthought, an auditioning backup drawn from the huge stockpile of former No. 1s who had fallen on hard times and was just looking for a way back to the show. Dude paid some dues in the KHL, for crying out loud. He eventually landed with the Blackhawks, who were looking for someone to open the door while Corey Crawford started, occasionally jumping in with a relief appearance and standing by just in case Crawford suddenly caught a case of beachballitis.

Short-season mojo: Turns out, Emery still had game. Not only did he admirably relieve Crawford when called upon over the last two seasons, he actually threatened for the starting gig. He was a vital component of the Blackhawks' record run in 2013, going a nasty 17-1, giving him a 32-10-1 record over two seasons with the squad. And he played the role of dedicated team guy during the playoffs when the Blackhawks made Crawford the undisputed starter, even when Crawford's game cracked and Emery had unquestionably earned the chance to start.

Why it will be tough to repeat: C'mon, a highly touted and capable goalie coming to the Flyers? How could that possibly go wrong? Plus, challenging for the No. 1 gig and actually being given the No. 1 gig to start the season are two different things.

Verdict: Emery is back on solid ground when it comes to the quality of his work, but he's jumping from being a backup in Chicago's smooth organizational waters into a starter in Philly's waterspout. And, not to mention, into a completely pucks-to-the-wall high-offense division. Even though he's on a one-year deal and he's capably backed up by Steve Mason, the guy doesn't stand a chance. Send your cards and letters now, to beat the rush.

We often describe the first day of free agency as a frenzy.

Guess what?

Friday, they finally got the frenzy part right.

From the moment the marketplace officially opened at noon ET, there was a non-stop acquisition of horseflesh from virtually every corner of the NHL map.

And in the wake of a five-year deal for Valtteri Filppula worth $25 million in Tampa and the five-year deal Stephen Weiss signed in Detroit for essentially the same amount and the $36.75 million the Toronto Maple Leafs committed to David Clarkson over the next seven years -- and a total of 63 deals worth a record $411.9 million -- remind us again why we had a lockout?

If that doesn’t confound your puzzler, well, more than a few things did on this most active of free-agency days.

Herein a look around the league at the events that made sense, made little sense and made no sense after the dust had cleared.

Ottawa Senators
The Senators said goodbye to their venerable captain, Daniel Alfredsson, who signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings. But within a couple of hours, GM Bryan Murray had landed an elite top-six forward in Bobby Ryan from Anaheim. Ryan will be a great fit on and off the ice in this Canadian market. It cost Murray big-time in the form of Jakob Silfverberg, a first-round draft pick, and former first-round pick Stefan Noesen. But the Sens, who also signed Clarke MacArthur to a two-year deal, are well-armed for a playoff battle in what looks now to be the toughest division in the newly realigned NHL.

Detroit Red Wings
It was a curious day for the Wings as they signed an aging Alfredsson to a one-year deal worth $5.5 million, evoking memories of the disastrous turn in Detroit by an aging Mike Modano, and then signed Weiss to a big five-year deal at $4.9 million a season, even though Weiss has toiled in relative obscurity in Florida his entire career. He’s played in just seven playoff games, all in 2012. The Wings also failed to immediately re-sign veteran Daniel Cleary or bring back impressive first-year player Damien Brunner or center Valtteri Filppula, who signed in Tampa. In other words, a few steps in a circle.

Tampa Bay Lightning
And since we’re on a Red Wings kick, let’s look at the Filppula signing. Five years at $5 million a year is a lot for a guy who had 17 points in 41 games this season (he did register 66 points in 2011-12). As a second-line center in Tampa who will ostensibly replace Vincent Lecavalier, is Filppula up to the task, or were those 66 points a mirage and will he settle back to his career norm of 40 or less? Let’s put it this way, for GM Steve Yzerman’s sake, Filppula better be on the ascending arc of his career or this is going to look pretty ugly in the wake of the Lecavalier buyout.

Columbus Blue Jackets
Still don’t quite get why Nathan Horton was in such a hurry to get out of Boston but guess all those trips to the finals must have been annoying somehow. Horton signed a whopper seven-year deal worth $37.1 million with the Blue Jackets, who are trying to build off last season’s dramatic if ultimately unsuccessful run to a playoff berth in the Western Conference. Still, is Horton really ready to be the guy in Columbus after being able to exist in the shadows for the most part in Boston? Streaky doesn’t really describe Horton’s history offensively and that won’t cut it for a team that has made the playoffs just once in its existence and has never won a postseason game.

Nashville Predators
Good bounce-back day for GM David Poile after just missing out on Daniel Briere as he added versatile veteran center Matt Cullen and hardworking Matt Hendricks along with Viktor Stalberg to bolster the Preds’ anemic offense. The Preds will, seemingly, always be about success by committee and these three additions should make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Cullen shortly after he signed his two-year deal worth $7 million told us it was difficult to leave his home state of Minnesota, but that the Preds’ hardworking style was attractive to him. Although injuries slowed Cullen at the end of this season, he can do it all, including taking important draws, working the power play and killing penalties.

Phoenix Coyotes
How rich is this? Two days after nearly having to relocate, with new ownership assured for at least the next five years, the Phoenix Coyotes were major players, snagging the top-producing free-agent forward, center Mike Ribeiro. The skilled Ribeiro signed a four-year deal worth $22 million and will rejoin head coach Dave Tippett, for whom he played in Dallas. The Coyotes have long been lacking depth down the middle. No more. Phoenix also signed Thomas Greiss to back up Mike Smith.

Pittsburgh Penguins
Just when you think GM Ray Shero is all out of cards up his sleeve, he pulled out "The Piece" -- or rather repatriated "The Piece," defenseman Rob Scuderi, who was a key part of the Pens’ runs to the 2008 and 2009 Stanley Cup finals. Scuderi, who also won a Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012, signed a four-year deal with the Pens for a total of $13.5 million and will help solidify the blue line of a team that once again looks Stanley Cup-ready with Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis all re-signing deals in recent days.

Carolina Hurricanes
On a day when lots of bigger names were signing a lot bigger contracts, we liked the additions in Carolina of defenseman Mike Komisarek, who was bought out by the Toronto Maple Leafs and who has a ton to prove as he tries to get his NHL edge back. And then there was the signing of backup netminder Anton Khudobin, formerly of the Boston Bruins. Lots of folks believe Khudobin, the former ECHL goaltender of the year, has NHL starter stuff. Pending Cam Ward’s durability, Khudobin might be among the steals of the free-agent market.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Few players were pursued as vigorously as former New Jersey Devil winger David Clarkson. Edmonton, Ottawa and Boston were among the teams interested in the rugged winger with the scorer’s touch. But the Toronto native ended up coming home and signing a whopper seven-year deal with the Leafs worth $36.75 million. With the addition of Jonathan Bernier and Dave Bolland, the Leafs look to have better depth than a year ago (they also re-signed Tyler Bozak to a five-year deal on Friday worth $21 million). They are still thin down the middle but Clarkson will give Randy Carlyle the tools to ice three potentially potent scoring lines, which will be crucial to the Leafs' efforts to return to the playoffs for a second straight year.

New Jersey Devils
Speaking of the Devils, their big signing of the day, Ryane Clowe for five years for a total of $24.25 million, seemed to illustrate the difficulty the franchise continues to have in attracting top-end talent. Clowe, like Clarkson, is a rugged forward with a nose for the puck, but he is also coming off a series of concussions, so his durability -- especially given his brand of game -- has to be suspect. Bottom line is the Devils needed someone to help fill the void created by Clarkson’s departure, and they had to overpay a player with health issues to get that done. Not sure how that strategy sustains itself long-term. The Devils did add another proven scorer in Michael Ryder, who signed a two-year deal worth $7 million late Friday afternoon, joining fellow Newfoundlander Clowe in New Jersey. This is a lateral move, the Devils being Ryder’s third team in the past four years having gone from Boston, with whom he won a Cup in 2011, to Dallas and now to New Jersey.

Philadelphia Flyers
It didn’t turn out to be much of a surprise when the Flyers signed Ray Emery to a one-year deal worth $1.65 million. Emery wanted a chance to earn back a starting job and the Flyers represented one of the few teams with that kind of dynamic. The fact Emery had played for the Flyers was a bonus. But the big question is whether Emery, who was so good as Corey Crawford’s backup with the Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks -- going 17-1 with a .922 save percentage during the regular season, has the durability to become a starter again. Emery will split time with Steve Mason, and given Mason’s up-and-down career, there’s no reason to think Emery can’t be the man, as long as his body goes along with the plan. And, oh yeah, the Flyers remain over the salary cap so GM Paul Holmgren still has a little work left.

New York Islanders
Weird day for goaltenders. With Ilya Bryzgalov and Tim Thomas still looking for a place to land late Friday, the Isles re-upped netminder Evgeni Nabokov for one year at $3.25 million. Apparently no one in the Islander front office bothered to look at tape of the Isles' first-round playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Perhaps GM Garth Snow has a Plan B that will reveal itself at some point, but right now the Isles do not possess enough goaltending to get in the top four of their division despite adding character forwards Cal Clutterbuck at the draft and signing Pierre-Marc Bouchard on Friday.

Edmonton Oilers
Loved the Oilers' addition of veteran defenseman Andrew Ference to a four-year deal worth $13 million. If it’s one thing the Oilers need, it’s some maturity on the blue line. Ference won a Cup with Boston in 2011 and was part of the Bruins’ run to the finals this spring, logging more than 24 minutes a night in the postseason. Not sure about Boyd Gordon signing at $3 million a year for three years, but someone had to take on the departed Shawn Horcoff’s role (the former Edmonton captain was dealt to Dallas). Jason LaBarbera was inked to a one-year deal to come in to back up Devan Dubnyk, which is fine if you believe Dubnyk is the guy to lead this team out of the wilderness, but right now the Oilers look to have no better than the sixth-best goaltending in their new division.

Boston Bruins
You can’t beat the irony of this one. The Bruins were spurned by Jarome Iginla at the trade deadline when Iginla waived his no-trade clause and joined the Pittsburgh Penguins. Then the Bruins waxed the former Calgary captain and the Penguins in four games in the Eastern Conference finals, allowing just two goals in four games and leaving Iginla without a point in the series. Of course, Friday afternoon Iginla signed a one-year deal worth a $6 million cap hit (the final compensation is dependent upon bonuses) with the Bruins because, well, why not? The Bruins, shut out of the Alfredsson talks, among others, as they tried to plug the holes that have opened up on the right side of their lineup, are actually a nice fit for Iginla. As was the case at the trade deadline. And would it surprise anyone if the rugged winger lights it up after having a difficult time with the Penguins especially against the Bruins? Of course not.

Minnesota Wild
Interesting afternoon for GM Chuck Fletcher, who unloaded salary in Devin Setoguchi, essentially giving the winger away to the Winnipeg Jets for a second-round pick, and then picking up rugged winger Matt Cooke, signing him to a three-year deal worth $7.5 million. Setoguchi has one year left on his deal worth a $3 million cap hit. He started slowly with the Wild this season but playing with Matt Cullen ended up with 13 goals and 27 points but Setoguchi was never the perfect fit in Minnesota and so he joins a Jets team that continues to collect other teams’ castoffs. Cooke, a part of the Penguins’ Cup-winning team in 2009, will ostensibly replace Cal Clutterbuck, who was dealt to the New York Islanders at the draft. Cooke is well-known to Fletcher and to head coach Mike Yeo, both of whom were with the Penguins during that Cup run.

In the end, Daniel Briere followed his heart.

There were competitive offers from the Nashville Predators and New Jersey Devils, but the allure of finally playing for the Montreal Canadiens could not be passed up by the French-Canadian veteran forward.

In summer 2007, Briere spurned the Habs for Philadelphia, and the fans at the Bell Centre routinely booed him during his games in Montreal.

All is forgotten now.

The key for Habs GM Marc Bergevin, who turned his attention aggressively toward Briere about two days ago, was the term. One of the reasons Bergevin lost out on Vincent Lecavalier and won’t be able to get unrestricted free agent Ryane Clowe is that he doesn’t want to get locked into long-term, UFA deals.

At two years and $8 million, the term is perfect for Bergevin, who believes he has some young, promising talent in the system that isn’t quite ready yet. Players such as Briere can help bridge the gap.

Speaking of Clowe, the Habs were willing to do a short-term deal with him, but it’s believed the UFA power forward wants to get a bit more security and who can blame him. Keep an eye on the Devils; I believe they are the front-runners for Clowe.

The Devils need a replacement for power forward David Clarkson, who has drawn a ton of interest as the headliner in this year’s UFA crop, including from Ottawa, Toronto and Edmonton.


• Ray Emery is likely leaving Chicago, where he loved it, to procure a job that will give him a bigger role. He’s not going to get that behind Corey Crawford with the Blackhawks. Philadelphia and Edmonton are among the teams that have reached out, and I think the Flyers are the odds-on favorite to get him, with Emery and the Flyers comfortable with each other after their time spent together before. If the Flyers do get him, Emery will compete for starts with Steve Mason.

• Daniel Alfredsson has three real choices in front of him: stay in Ottawa, join Boston or join Detroit. Multiple teams reached out to him, but the Bruins and Red Wings are really the only options if he were to leave the Senators. The Swedish connections run deep with Detroit (Niklas Kronwall, Henrik Zetterberg). Alfredsson spoke directly to both the Bruins' and Red Wings’ front office Thursday to gain more information. I still believe he likely stays in Ottawa, but it’s interesting to see how much Alfredsson is deliberating on all this.

• The Predators lost out on Briere -- and not just him. A source told that Nashville had also spoken to Boston about Tyler Seguin before the Bruins shipped him to Dallas in a blockbuster deal Thursday. Nashville needs to find offense somewhere.
It is ironic that two of the highest-profile players talked about being potential buyouts were both paramount to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2004 Stanley Cup triumph.

Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards await word on their respective situations as the compliance buyout window opens Wednesday at 11 p.m. ET.

Any player bought out during this window would see his cap hit completely wiped clean. It’s a transition measure in the new collective bargaining agreement for this summer and next summer only, and only two buyouts per team are allowed.

Lecavalier, 33, still has seven years left on his deal, which carries a $7.73 million annual cap hit for Tampa. Richards, also 33, also has seven years left on his deal with the Rangers at a $6.67 million annual cap hit.

The decision that faces both the Rangers and Lightning: If they don’t use the compliance buyout provision before the end of July 4, do they risk either player getting injured next season and not be able to buy him out next summer?

The other factor to consider is the "recapture" rule in the new CBA, which hammers teams with cap charges on players with these types of front-loaded contracts if they retire before the end of the deal.

Neither player's camp had heard officially either way as of Wednesday afternoon, with Pat Morris of Newport Sports telling he had yet to get a definite answer from the Rangers. In a text, Richards told's Katie Strang at 9 p.m. ET that he had not heard from the Rangers. Ditto for Lecavalier’s agent, Kent Hughes, who nevertheless understands the situation Tampa is in.

"We understand that the contract is a difficult one in a declining environment and potentially difficult with rule changes that have been instituted in the new CBA, and we understand that Tampa has the right to extricate itself from that contract through the amnesty buyout provision," Hughes told "We’ve had a conversation, but we haven’t been told one way or another that they intend to do so. We expect that if they are going to, we’ll know in the very, very near future."

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly sent out a memo Monday morning to all 30 teams warning them to play it by the book regarding buyouts and trades. The N.Y. Post this week reported that Tampa and Toronto had talked about a potential Lecavalier deal in which the Leafs would get another asset in exchange for using its financial muscle to absorb the buyout on Lecavalier, which then in turn could re-sign in Tampa at a cheaper rate after he becomes a free agent (players who are bought out can't rejoin their own teams for a year). The Leafs deny the report. Daly's memo specifically warned clubs that the trade/buyout/reacquire scenario would be deemed a circumvention of the CBA.

Looking to move Miller?

Ryan Miller's future remains up in the air. Will he be a Sabre next season or be dealt elsewhere?

He has one year left on his deal at $6.25 million, which suggests this is the summer when Buffalo has to fish or cut bait with him. If it's going to deal him, it'll get more now than at the trade deadline next season.

Miller told via email Wednesday that he did not know what was going on and was just focused on what he could control.

"I just have to prepare myself to be a starting goalie and an Olympian," Miller said. "I want to challenge myself to raise my game back to the highest level. Everything else is out of my control."

Paging Tim Thomas

Ray Emery, an unrestricted free agent on July 5, is a name that surfaced among Philadelphia media speculating on what the Flyers might do to sign a goalie to share the crease with Steve Mason now that they’ve decided to buy out Ilya Bryzgalov.

Emery, should he not re-sign in Chicago, would certainly make sense given his past relationship with Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, and a source confirmed Wednesday that Emery is among the names on Holmgren’s radar. Emery’s agent, J.P. Barry of CAA Sports, was expected to touch base with the Blackhawks over the next day or so to figure out what their intentions are for the veteran goalie, who was terrific in forming a one-two punch with Corey Crawford this season.

Meanwhile, another name that was thrown out Tuesday by some Philly scribes was that of Tim Thomas. The polarizing 39-year-old becomes a UFA on July 5 after skipping out on the final year of his deal with Boston. (His rights were dealt to the Islanders last season.)

The question is, what are Thomas’ intentions?

"Until I hear otherwise, he’s status quo," Thomas’ agent Bill Zito said Wednesday.

Which means he remains undecided, although clearly he’s going to need to decide soon if he intends to come back since goalie jobs will be scarce in a matter of weeks.

Here’s hoping Thomas returns -- how could that not be fun?

Bobrovsky looking for deal

Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky remains unsigned by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Ongoing talks between the goalie’s agent Paul Theofanous and the club have not closed the gap yet.

"I’m supposed to meet with Theofanous today, but there’s nothing new to report right now," Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen told on Wednesday afternoon. "It’s a work in progress. We’re hoping to get it done."

Adding to the challenge for Kekalainen is that Bobrovsky reportedly has a lucrative offer on the table from the KHL’s St. Petersburg SKA club, which is owned by KHL president Alexander Medvedev. Not that Kekalainen is trying to compete with that offer.

"It’s a rich company that sponsors SKA, and Medvedev is a powerful man," Kekalainen said. "And I respect their league and their process there. But we don’t negotiate against the KHL. We based our negotiations on the comparables in the NHL."

This and that

• The Kings and pending UFA blueliner Rob Scuderi continue to talk, but there's still no deal at this point. "Talks are ongoing prior to July 5, and no final decision has been made," Scuderi’s agent Steve Bartlett said Wednesday. "The Kings have shown strong interest in having him return."

• Devils GM Lou Lamoriello and David Clarkson’s agent Pat Morris of Newport Sports chatted Tuesday, although no offers were exchanged.

• Jonathan Bernier’s agent, Pat Brisson of CAA Sports, says he expects to talk contract with the Maple Leafs at the draft this weekend.

• Contract talks are also underway between Matt Cooke's camp, led by Pat Morris, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Morning jam: Hawks goalies bring the goose

April, 15, 2013
Blackhawks 2, Blues 0
* Corey Crawford (CHI): 30 saves, 3rd shutout of season (8th career)
* Blackhawks: 7th shutout of season as a team (now tied with Canucks & Blues for league lead)
* Blackhawks: 7-0-1 in last 8 games
* Blues: lost last 2 games following a 6-game winning streak
FROM ELIAS: Corey Crawford made 29 saves as he led the Blackhawks to a 2–0 win against the Blues in St. Louis on Sunday afternoon. It was Crawford’s third shutout of the season, tying him with Ray Emery for the team lead in that category. This is the fifth season in which Chicago has had two goaltenders each register at least three shutouts. That also happened in 1964–65 (Glenn Hall, Denis DeJordy), 1971–72 (Tony Esposito, Gary Smith), 2008–09 (Cristobal Huet, Nikolai Khabibulin) and 2009–10 (Huet, Antti Niemi).

Red Wings 3, Predators 0
* Jimmy Howard (DET): 22 saves; 3rd shutout this season, 2 of them vs Predators
* Red Wings: Snap 3-game losing streak
* Red Wings: 8th place in West with 6 games remaining; made playoffs in each of last 21 seasons
* Predators: 6-game losing streak

Sabres 3, Lightning 1
* Sabres: won 2 straight games; 5-2-0 in last 7 games
* Sabres: trail Rangers by 4 points for 8th & final playoff spot in Eastern Conference (BUF has 5 games left to play)
* Lightning: 1-5-2 in last 8 games overall; 4-10-3 in last 17 road games at BUF

Afternoon jam: Blackhawks keep streaking

March, 2, 2013
Blackhawks 4, Blue Jackets 3 (OT)
* Blackhawks: extend point streak to 21 games to start season (won 8 straight)
* Blackhawks: won 10 straight vs Blue Jackets
* Ray Emery (CHI): 6-0-0 at home this season
* Blackhawks: next game is Sunday at Red Wings
* Vinny Prospal (CBJ): 3 goals, 2 assists in last 7 games
* FROM ELIAS: The Blackhawks’ NHL-record start-of-season point streak reached 21 games (18–0–3) with Chicago’s 4–3 overtime win over the Blue Jackets on Friday night. It’s the longest point streak by an NHL team at any juncture of a season since the Canadiens notched at least one point in each of their last 21 games of the 1979–1980 season (15 wins, six ties).
* FROM ELIAS: Ray Emery tied the NHL record for the longest start of season winning streak by a goaltender with his overtime victory on Friday. Emery is the fifth goaltender in NHL history to win his first nine decisions of a season, tying the mark set by Philadelphia’s Bob Froese in 1984–1985 and later equaled by Toronto’s Felix Potvin in 1993–1994, Ottawa’s Martin Prusek in 2002–2003 and Pittsburgh’s Ty Conklin in 2007–2008.

Longest Point Streaks To Start Season in NHL History
2012-13 Blackhawks 21 (active streak)
2006-07 Ducks<< 16
1984-85 Oilers<< 15
1943-44 Canadiens<< 14
>>Won Stanley Cup

Most Consecutive Games With A Point in NHL History
1979-80 Flyers 35
1977-78 Canadiens 28
'11-12/'12-13 Blackhawks 27 (active streak)
1975-76 Flyers 23
1940-41 Bruins 23

Inside the Point Streak
Blackhawks This Season
1-goal games 11-0-3
Opponent scores 1st 8-0-3
Ray Emery in goal 9-0-0

Fastest Goal on the Road
Blue Jackets Franchise History
Feb. 25, 2001 Espen Knutsen 0:17 Win
Jan. 30, 2007 Anson Carter 0:18 Win
Nov. 16, 2002 Geoff Sanderson 0:30 Tie
Friday Vinny Prospal 0:31 Overtime Loss
<< Source: Elias Sports Bureau

Ducks 3, Wild 2
* Ducks: 8th win in last 9 games
* Ducks: 8 straight wins at home
* Ducks: 15-3-1 start (31 points) is best 19-game start in club history, surpassing the 2006-07 team (13-2-4 for 30 points through 19 games)
* Wild: loss snaps 2-game win streak (have not won 3 straight this season)

Blues 4, Oilers 2
* Blues: won 6 straight home games vs Oilers
* Blues: outshot Oilers 30-17
* Blues: had total of 3 goals in previous 4 games
* Oilers: loss ends 3-game point streak
From the official NHL release:


NEW YORK (March 1, 2013) – Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos, Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby and Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Ray Emery have been named the NHL’s “Three Stars” for the month of February.


Stamkos posted 10-10—20 in 14 February games, tying for first in the League in goals (with Winnipeg’s Andrew Ladd) and ranking third in points.
He scored goals in six straight contests from Feb. 16-26 (seven total), the longest such streak in the NHL this season. Stamkos also had six multi-point outings and recorded at least one point in 11 of 14 games. He ended the month on an eight-game point streak (7-7—14), propelling him to first in the League in goals (14) and points (31). Currently in his fifth NHL season, all with the Lightning, the two-time Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy winner has 193-167—360 in 345 career games.


Crosby led the NHL with 18 assists and 24 points in 14 games. He recorded six three-point performances during the month and registered at least one point in 11 of 14 contests. Crosby finished February with points in three straight games (2-4—6), his fourth stretch this season with points in at least three consecutive contests. Through 21 games, he leads the NHL with 22 assists and is on pace to become the first player to average at least one helper per game since Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin in 2009-10. The 25-year-old Cole Harbour, N.S., native has played in 455 career NHL games, all with the Penguins, totaling 232-408—640 (1.41 points per game).


Emery posted a 7-0-0 record, 1.66 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in eight games as the Blackhawks continued their record-setting start to the season. He allowed two goals or fewer in seven of his eight appearances and secured shootout victories over the Calgary Flames Feb. 2 and Vancouver Canucks Feb. 19. Emery has played in nine games overall this season, ranking in the top 10 in the League in wins (eight), goals-against average (1.92) and save percentage (.931). In 216 career NHL appearances, the Hamilton, Ont., native has a 117-62-19 record with a 2.66 goals-against average, .908 save percentage and 11 shutouts.
From the official NHL release:


NEW YORK (March 5, 2012) – Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall and Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Ray Emery have been named the NHL’s ‘Three Stars’ for the week ending March 4.


Miller posted a 3-0-0 record, 1.00 goals-against average, .974 save percentage and two shutouts as the Sabres (30-27-8, 68 points) moved within two points of eighth place in the Eastern Conference. He began the week with back-to-back shutouts, making 43 saves in a 2-0 win at the Anaheim Ducks Feb. 29 and 39 saves in a 1-0 victory at the San Jose Sharks March 1.
Miller then recorded 32 saves in a 5-3 win at the Vancouver Canucks March 5, stretching his shutout streak to 155:37 before David Booth scored at
15:37 of the second period. The 2009-10 Vezina Trophy winner is 22-17-5 with a 2.59 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and five shutouts in 46 appearances. He is 6-0-2 in his past eight starts and 11-2-3 in his past 16 decisions dating to Jan. 24.


Kronwall tied for the League scoring lead and led all NHL defensemen with seven points (two goals, five assists) as the Red Wings won two of three games to keep pace with the St. Louis Blues for first place in the Central Division. Kronwall provided Detroit with offense from the blueline in the absence of injured captain and seven-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom, beginning with one goal and two assists in a 5-2 win at the Columbus Blue Jackets Feb. 28. He had his second consecutive three-point game with three assists in a 6-0 victory against the Minnesota Wild March 2 and scored Detroit’s lone goal in a 2-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks March 4. The 31-year-old Stockholm, Sweden native has 31 points, including a career-high 14 goals, in 66 games.


Emery went 3-0-0 with a 1.13 goals-against average and .959 save percentage to help the Blackhawks (36-24-7, 79 points) tighten their grip on sixth place in the Western Conference. He allowed one goal in 40 minutes of relief as Chicago rallied for a 5-4 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs Feb. 29, stopped 25 shots in a 2-1 win at the Ottawa Senators March 2 and made 23 saves in a 2-1 victory at the Detroit Red Wings March 4.
Playing in his first season with the Blackhawks, Emery has a 14-8-2 record with a 2.58 goals-against average and .909 save percentage in 28 appearances.
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.