Blackhawks breakdown: Ray Emery

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Blackhawks breakdown: Ray Emery

CSNChicago.com Blackhawks Insider Tracey Myers and PGL host Chris Boden will evaluate the 2011-12 performance of each player on the Hawks roster. One breakdown will occur every weekday in numerical order.

After coming back from a career-threatening hip injury that would require surgery and limit him to just 10 games played in 2010-11, Ray Emery played in 34 games -- starting 27 of them -- in 2011-12 for the Blackhawks. He finished the season with a 15-9-4 record, a .900 save percentage and 2.81 goals-against average. Emery did not see any action in the playoffs.

Boden's take: Ray Emery was outplayed by Alexander Salak in the preseason in his bid to make the Blackhawks' roster on a training camp tryout, but Stan Bowman chose to sign him anyway. It didn't look like the right move at the time, but it turned out to be exactly that. Salak wound up struggling at Rockford, and Emery did exactly what he was supposed to do as a backup to Corey Crawford. As Crawford struggled with his consistency throughout the year, there were times Emery looked like he could carry the load, and others where he looked like, well, Crawford. As a backup goalie, I think just about any team would take the numbers Emery put up. By and large, he wasn't spectacular, but was more consistent than Crawford, and almost appeared to be the playoff goalie Joel Quenneville would settle on before Crawford put a hot streak together down the sretch.
Myers' take: When the veteran was signed to a tryout contract heading into training camp, it might as well have just been a regular one-year deal. Salak, who battled Emery for the No. 2 job, actually had better numbers out of camp. But it was pretty obvious the Blackhawks wanted a more veteran presence behind Crawford, who was going into his sophomore season. Emery filled that role well, guiding the Blackhawks to victories during the several slumps Crawford experienced. Emery's play was good enough at times that the dreaded "goalie controversy" once again became a topic of discussion. But the soft-spoken Emery always downplayed that talk when it came up, and just kept going about his winning business.
2012-13 Expectations

Boden: Since it doesn't appear as though there will be changes in the Hawks' goalie tandem, this team either needs Crawford to revert to his rookie form, or Emery to turn back the clock six years when he led Ottawa to the Stanley Cup Finals. Whether he's fully capable of that after his career-saving hip surgery two years ago is uncertain. There were also some questions about his being a good teammate, but that was all prior to his injury, and there have been no complaints inside the Blackhawks locker room or in his time with Anaheim. The Hawks recommitted to Emery for one more year (1.15 million) on the final weekend of the regular season. If he repeats what he does as a backup and Crawford re-emerges from his rollercoaster sophomore season, the questions in net will be fewer with the help of a better overall defensive effort in front of the two.

Myers: Emery's already signed to another one-year deal, so we know he'll be back. Considering Crawford's rough 2011-12, some may wonder if Emery's starting goaltender material. Probably not. But the veteran has a good relationship with Crawford -- Crawford said he looked at Emery's pregame preparation and changed his own afterward -- and that should continue through next season. Emery is a good safety net, there's no doubt.

How do you feel about this evaluation? As always, be sure to chime in with your thoughts by commenting below and check out highlights of Emery above.

Up next: Dylan Olsen

Preview: Lackey, Cubs face Scherzer, Nationals today on CSN

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Preview: Lackey, Cubs face Scherzer, Nationals today on CSN

The Cubs take on the Washington Nationals today, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: John Lackey vs. Max Scherzer

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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Ben Zobrist, Daniel Murphy and a new Mr. October for Cubs?

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Ben Zobrist, Daniel Murphy and a new Mr. October for Cubs?

Ben Zobrist never made it to the sit-down his camp had scheduled with the Washington Nationals at the winter meetings, which took place at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, not far from his offseason home. 

The Cubs were quietly hitting their multiple bank shot, trading Starlin Castro to the New York Yankees for Adam Warren and getting Zobrist to Chicago for the physical to finalize a four-year, $56 million contract.   

The Nationals found their Plan B for second base by Christmas Eve, agreeing to a three-year, $37.5 million deal with Daniel Murphy, the new Mr. October who crushed the Cubs during the National League Championship Series.

Murphy and Zobrist intersected again on Thursday night at Wrigley Field, the Cubs winning Round 1 of this four-game series between National League heavyweights by a 5-2 score. 

The fans booed Murphy for last year’s NLCS MVP performance with the New York Mets, while Zobrist drew first blood with a two-run single in the fourth inning and a going-for-the-jugular two-run homer in the eighth. At 21-6, the Cubs are dominating every phase of the game after winning the offseason.   

“We knew that we were going to be good,” Zobrist said, “but sometimes you start slow. We got off well the first week and we kept it going. There’s something to be said for getting the ball rolling in the right direction early. And that makes a huge difference.”   

The Cubs wanted Zobrist’s steady presence on defense, his leadership in the clubhouse and a different dimension for their lineup. Zobrist earned his championship ring with the Kansas City Royals, handling New York’s power pitching in the World Series.  

Murphy cooled off by that point after a ridiculous four-homer power surge during the NLCS sweep, which included his memorable momentum-shifting swing against Jake Arrieta in Game 2. Murphy reached so far down for that Arrieta curveball that his left knee almost scraped the dirt, lifting it out toward Citi Field’s right-field seats for a two-run homer and a 3-0 first-inning lead.   

“There’s not enough adjectives to explain how good Jake has been over the last year-and-a-half,” Murphy said. “I think he just put together – I was reading – (something) like the best 25-game stretch of anybody ever. So I was able to get a pitch that he probably felt like he executed pretty well. 

“I didn’t hit it great. I just happened to wrap it around the pole. With Curtis Granderson and David (Wright) in front of me, they had really good at-bats, and our pitching was throwing the ball really well. Fortunately, that kind of ended up being enough for us.”

Something clicked for Murphy, who after an 0-for-4 night is still hitting .382 with four homers and 17 RBI for a first-place Washington team (19-9) the Cubs might face in the playoffs. 

But the Cubs now believe they might have their own Mr. October, who didn’t go that far down the road negotiating with the Nationals. Zobrist turned down four-year, $60 million offers from the Mets and San Francisco Giants for the chance to make history in Chicago. 

“There’s a great mix of the way guys are playing,” Zobrist said, “the way they’re feeling, the way they’re having conversations with each other. It’s the way that they’re just out there having a good time. We celebrate well together. We battle well together.

“That’s great on May 5th to get that feeling already. Sometimes you won’t get that feeling of a good team until later in the season. We’re going to have to weather some storms. We know that. But right now, we’re just trying to play great baseball.”

Cubs' Dexter Fowler still steaming after first-ever ejection

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Cubs' Dexter Fowler still steaming after first-ever ejection

Three hours after being ejected, Dexter Fowler was still fuming.

Fowler - who leads Major League Baseball in on-base percentage - only got two at-bats Thursday night against the Washington Nationals before he was directed to hit the showers by home plate umpire Vic Carapazza.

Fowler struck out looking in his first two times to the plate and expressed his frustration with Carapazza on the field after his third-inning at-bat.

It didn't take long for Carapazza to give Fowler the boot.

Here's the rundown of the conversation, according to the Cubs's leadoff hitter:

Fowler: Was that pitch at the top of the zone?
Carapazza: Yes.
Fowler: Are you going to call them away, too, and down? What are we doing? I wanna know the strike zone.
Carapazza: That's enough.
Fowler: Enough of what? I'm asking you a question.

"And he threw me out," Fowler said. "I was surprised he didn't answer the question. He just walked away and said, 'That's enough.' I said, 'You're not gonna answer my question?' And he threw me out.

"I figure I got two more at-bats; I wanted to know the strike zone. Are you gonna call them up? Are you gonna call them away? Whatever. Just let me know. That's all."

Fowler said he has never been ejected from a game in his life at any level.

He admits he's said more than that before and hasn't gotten tossed. And he's also occasionally asked umpires where their strike zone is.

"People have answered my questions and I walked off," Fowler said. "That's all you want is an answer. ... Everybody knows I'm respectful. I wasn't being disrespectful at all. I just asked a question. It sucks I got thrown out of the game."

Fowler has been the Cubs' most productive offensive player this season, but his teammates still found a way to earn a 5-2 victory over the Nationals in his absence.

Joe Maddon was on his way out to argue when Fowler was tossed, but the Cubs manager wasn't as interested in getting into the whole ordeal after the game like his centerfielder was.

"I was arguing that we are a team that does not expand our strike zone," Maddon said. "That was my argument."