PHILADELPHIA -- This was the game Ray Emery needed. In his third start back from early December abdominal surgery, Emery made 24 saves to shut out the New York Rangers, 2-0, and improved to 13-9-1.
Emery signed with the Flyers as a free agent after a somewhat controversial season in the Russian Kontinental League that followed a highly controversial third and final season as the Ottawa Senators' goalie. Emery helped lead Ottawa to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final but his play tailed off the following season amid emotional outbursts, missed practices and brushes with the law.
The Flyers took a chance last summer and Emery started with three-straight victories and continued well through a 10-3-1 record. But his effectiveness slipped as he tried to play through abdominal pain. He allowed 31 goals in his final eight starts before undergoing surgery on Dec. 8.
The Flyers picked up goalie Michael Leighton on waivers from the Carolina Hurricanes and he went 8-2-1 as the starter. With Brian Boucher signed as the backup goalie for the season, the Flyers have a glut of good goaltenders. Emery returned to practice well before the six-week recuperation period predicted by his doctors, but watched several game before coach Peter Laviolette gave him a start Sunday against the Washington Capitals.
That 5-2 defeat was a team effort but it was a tough way to come back for Emery, who then made 25 saves in a 5-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets here Tuesday. But he fumbled the puck on the first two Blue Jackets' goals, allowing them to tie the game.
Emery was sure-handed Thursday, but he gave most of the credit to his teammates.
"It was just good to win," Emery said. "The last couple of nights, the other team didn't have much. I thought we did a great job. We played physical but we stayed out of the box. Any time you can do that, you put yourself in a good spot. They played very well, mistake-free for the most part."
The Flyers were happy with the way Emery played.
"I think he played solid for us," defenseman Braydon Coburn said. "He stood solid in there when we needed him to. I thought he did a good job of swallowing up a lot of loose pucks around the net. I thought that was what was the most impressive part of his game tonight."
The Rangers were trying to keep the Flyers from scoring the first goal for the 13th time in 14 games and put good pressure on Emery in the first five minutes, but then the Flyers began to dominate and after that the Rangers had little sustained pressure in their offensive zone.
"We came out pretty strong, too," Emery said. "They had a couple of shifts in there, but I thought that from start to finish we played pretty mistake-free."
"We want to push the tempo as long as we can, all game," Coburn said. "With the way we played and the team we have, we want to see if other teams can keep up to that. That's our game and we're not too worried about what they're going to do."
He said the key, as it has been in recent Flyers' victories, was to keep the shots coming from the perimeter and to sweep loose pucks away from Emery.
"Yeah, especially the big guys," Emery said. "If they get chances, they can bury it. (Marian) Gaborik and that top line (with Vinnie Prospal and Brandon Dubinsky). The boys really shut them down and forced them to play defense, which they don't like to do."
Emery said the hardest shot he faced came from Aaron Voros at 9:14 of the first period.
"It hit me in the face. You stop those normally," Emery said.
Emery said it wasn't easy sitting out and watching another goalie take the team on a good, sustained run. He's rooting for his team, of course, and said so at every opportunity.
"It's different when you have time off, you have to think about things," Emery said. "Then you get back in there and you don't have to think about as much. Everything flows a bit more smoothly."
Surgeries leave scars and while Emery is better, there are still reminders he's healing.
"I'm feeling pretty good. It's something that I still have to take care of. I'm feeling good, better than before (the surgery)," Emery said.
"You've got to remember he had surgery, he was off a long time, he wasn't taking any shots, and you're talking about a very difficult position -- one of the toughest in professional sports," Laviolette said. "I think the biggest thing for him is just to get time and get comfortable in there. But tonight he was very sharp. In my opinion, he was very sharp."
Emery made two excellent saves in the game's waning minutes. Ryan Callahan ripped a shot from the left boards that Emery caught in his glove with 3:35 remaining and Prospal lobbed a shot from 100-feet out in the neutral zone that bounced before it got to Emery.
"It was different, it bounced sideways, but you kind of expect a bad bounce so you block an area and I blocked the right area," Emery said.