Emery Should Rest

Flyers' goalie Ray Emery is getting closer to returning to action. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)

PITTSBURGH – After the Flyers’ morning skate on Wednesday at the Wachovia Center, Ray Emery said that he thinks he will be ready to play on Saturday night against Tampa Bay.

If you’ve read my work recently, you can probably tell that I tend to err on the side caution and like to play Mr. Conservative with regards to injuries.

Alas, I am a sports writer and not a general manager.

As I sit here now, I’m still trying to figure out why the Flyers are so desperate to rush Ray Emery back to the lineup.

He had surgery to repair a tear in his abdominal wall on Dec. 9. His target date for return, we were told, was six weeks. That would make Jan. 20 a realistic goal.

Tomorrow is only Jan. 9. By my count, that’s 11 days early.

This week, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said that all he was waiting for was the clearance from doctors to hand the keys to the Flyers’ net back to Emery.

"If the doctors think he is fine and Ray feels fine, I don't think there is any reason not to activate him," Holmgren said.

Re-aggravating the injury due to a premature return sounds like a pretty good one to me.

Let’s face it: Emery is a goaltender. And an active one at that. When he’s at the top of his game, he is one of the quickest goalies in the NHL. Flopping around on a partially healed abdominal muscle – one that obviously impaired his explosiveness – doesn’t seem logical. There is a lot of stress on a goaltender's abdomen during the course of a game.

What’s the rush? It’s not like the Flyers have a gaping hole in net that Emery will magically fill.

He may even be a little rusty. He said after practice on Monday that he felt “a little tight.” That’s never a good sign.

Overall, is Emery a better goalie than Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher? Probably. In situations like these, though, it makes sense to balance risk and reward.

In the same sense, it’s hard to yank Leighton out of the net with his impressive .930-plus save percentage and sparkling 6-0-1 record. Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said so himself.

“Certainly, we’ll be glad when Ray’s available to us,” Laviolette said. “But our goaltending has been OK. It hasn’t been a problem. We, collectively, were a problem. We didn’t see anything that looked good. It certainly wasn’t the goaltender’s fault. Our goaltending has given us a chance to win hockey games; that’s what you want from your goalies.”

We know that Laviolette is a big fan of Emery. He was someone that – as a TSN analyst before he was hired by the Flyers and before Emery was hurt – pushed for Emery to be considered for the Canadian Olympic team.

But even he thinks Emery needs a little more time to work on his game.

“I think he’s feeling better and more confident,” Laviolette said. “The more work we can get him, the better I think he’s going to feel.”

Emery is a warrior. I wouldn’t bet that he’d say – after all this attention – that he suddenly isn’t as far ahead of schedule as he thought and he needs more time. Emery clearly wants to be on the ice competing with his teammates.

“I think he’s pushing, he’s close,” Laviolette said on Thursday. “I’m not sure who’s going to start in net over the weekend and who’s going to be available. He certainly is getting close and practicing hard.”

There’s something to be said for that. Sitting out is no fun.

Emery said he wouldn’t think twice about holding back a few extra days if he thought it wold help.

Then again, though, this is the same player that had such a tough time taking himself out of the lineup before his surgery. He started six games (all losses) for the Flyers even though he knew he wasn’t 100 percent.

There’s something to be said for that, too.

Offensive spark
Here's an interesting stat to chew on, courtesy of the Shales Sports Bureau:

In the first 35 games, the Flyers averaged 2.71 goals a game and scored four or more goals only 10 times. Their record in those games? 15-18-2.

In their last eight games they have averaged 4.38 goals per game and have scored four or more six times. Their record in these games? 6-1-1.