With every game he plays and each puck he stops, Ray Emery gets closer to rounding into his old form.
And Senators head coach John Paddock is going to give the goaltender one more chance to stay on that path Friday night, when Ottawa faces the Stars in Dallas (8:30 p.m., Sens TV, Team 1200) in Game No. 3 of their current road swing.
Emery’s play has helped the Senators earn three of a possible four points in their first two games away from Scotiabank Place this month, including a 5-4 victory over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night that halted a seven-game winless streak.
It’s been a long road back for Emery from off-season wrist surgery, but Paddock believes he’s getting close to seeing the type of play the goaltender delivered last season in backstopping the Senators all the way to the Stanley Cup final.
“I think there’s still room for improvement,” said Paddock. “(Emery) can’t play as few games as he’s played in the last seventh months (because of the injury) and be playing at his highest level. But I think he’s getting there, just by the work he’s getting and being in games and having a little bit of success.
“Now it’s up to him to keep pushing to get back up to his highest level.”
Paddock said he hadn’t originally planned to give Emery three straight starts to open the road trip. But the goaltender was a big reason the Senators earned a point Tuesday night in a shootout loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and helped deliver a much-needed win over the Panthers.
“Now that we’ve won a hockey game, we’re going to go (with Emery) at this small stage,” said Paddock. “I don’t think last Saturday night I had the thought that he was going to play all three games. It was going to depend on how he did and how we did.”
Besides finally breaking loose for a win, Paddock was also pleased with the composure his team showed Wednesday night at BankAtlantic Center. He also saw big dividends from some of his so-called “secondary” scorers – Randy Robitaille notched a pair of goals, while rookie Nick Foligno
and Mike Fisher chipped in one apiece.
Foligno, who played on a line with Fisher and captain Daniel Alfredsson
, had what Paddock termed his finest night yet with the big club.
“It was his best game he’s played for us. By far,” said Paddock. “For the first time, (Foligno) probably found a happy medium of keeping it simple and holding on to the puck and making a couple of plays.
“If you’re going to play with Alfie or a couple of players like that in a situation like that, you have to be able to make a play and help them create something. He didn’t do it in Tampa but he did (Wednesday) night.”
Fisher, meanwhile, ended a 14-game goal-less drought.
“I was happy to see him get a goal,” said Fisher. “That line had a real good night of controlling the puck and making things happen.”
Now, Paddock said, the task ahead is some “refining” of the Senators’ team play in their own end of the ice.
“We’ve tried to be more aggressive these last two games since losing to the Rangers (last Saturday),” he said. “We’re not taking Tampa Bay’s slogan of ‘safe is death,’ but we just want to be more active and push aggressiveness with the puck.
“When you do that, it’s possible there’s going to be more (play) in your end … (The players) have a little bit of refining to do, and we (coaches) have a little bit of thinking to do about whether we want to keep playing that way. But we had to be more aggressive to help get us out of the doldrums.”