There was a distinct buzz in the air at Scotiabank Place on Friday morning.
And not just because teams from the Bell Capital Cup were raising a racket while being treated to an open Ottawa Senators practice session.
Rather, all the talk surrounded goaltender Ray Emery – or, more specifically, his absence from the ice during the team’s workout in advance of Saturday’s matchup with the Washington Capitals (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). Emery arrived at the arena about five minutes before the scheduled 11 a.m. practice and was sent home by the Senators coaching staff almost immediately.
“He got here a little bit late. He wasn’t feeling good,” Senators head coach John Paddock told the assembled media gathering afterward. “I told him not to practise, it was too late. He still wanted to practise, but I told him not to … it was best he went home for the day.”
Paddock added he expected Emery would be at Saturday’s pre-game skate, and back up Martin Gerber against the Capitals.
Much as the incident dominated post-practice talk in the Senators’ dressing room, Emery’s teammates insisted it wouldn’t be a distraction of any sort.
“The bottom line is, when he gets between the pipes, he stops the puck for the team,” said Senators forward Dany Heatley. “Guys will get sick … it’s happened all season.
“I don’t think it’s anything out of the ordinary.”
Added forward Mike Fisher: “It’s not really an issue. We’re playing really well right now and that’s what we’re focusing on. That’s the bottom line.”
Said captain Daniel Alfredsson
: “As long as he shows up and plays hard when it’s game time, that’s all that matters.”
Centre Jason Spezza
echoed a similar sentiment.
“I don’t think it’s a distraction,” he said. “We’re professionals and we’re still finding ways to win games. At 7 o’clock on game nights, we’re ready to go.”
It hasn’t been the easiest of seasons for Emery, who backstopped the Senators all the way to the Stanley Cup final last spring. Off-season wrist surgery wiped out the majority of his training camp, then he watched a red-hot Gerber lead the Senators to a 13-1-0 start.
Emery’s time seemed to arrive again in early December, when he ran off three straight victories to help the Senators bust out of a seven-game winless streak. But a sore hip knocked him back to bench in the opening minutes of a Dec. 12 road game against the Carolina Hurricanes. Gerber has started seven of eight games since, and the Eastern Conference-leading Senators (25-8-4) are currently on a 9-1-1 roll.
Paddock believes Emery is still stuck in a battle to overcome the effects of the lost training camp time.
“It was like being in the midst of training camp (for him),” he said. “He played three or four straight games, had two hard practices … he wasn’t ready for that workload.
“He was on his way back. He’d had a couple of really hard, good practices, we were winning, he was making the saves when he had to. Then it went the other way, and we’ve stuck with the hot goaltender.
“(Emery) had that opportunity, his body betrayed him and now he has to work to get it back.”
Clearly, it’s been a source of frustration for the ultra-competitive Emery.
“You have a great season the year before, you have off-season surgery, you lose your job to somebody else and you’re battling back and you may not be as healthy as you thought you’d be after surgery … for anybody, it would be tough to come back,” said Spezza. “It’s just human nature. You want to get back to where you left off and for him, it couldn’t happen because of the surgery.”
A healthy Emery, though, would give the Senators perhaps the top 1-2 goaltending tandem in the National Hockey League. And that’s something defenceman Wade Redden said the team needs to achieve its biggest goals this season.
“We’re going to need everybody in this locker room to have the success we’re looking for," he said. "(Emery) is a part of this team and that hasn’t changed.
“As a team, we’ve just got to keep building together. That’s our main focus. Gerbs has been playing great for us and we know Razor has the ability to step in if we need him. And we’re going to need everybody in this room.”