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Emery working to regain form

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
One year ago, he backstopped them to their first Stanley Cup final in modern franchise history.

Let’s just say Ray Emery’s coaches and teammates know full well how much he means to the Ottawa Senators and the kind of quality goaltending he’s capable of producing.

It’s a big reason why, a day after Emery was fined for missing a team practice on Long Island, the Senators camp expressed a mix of hope and frustration as the firestorm surrounding the embattled netminder dominated talk around the team for another day.

For his part, Emery was contrite about the incident that occurred Monday, when the Senators held their first post-all-star break team practice.

“I showed up late … it was a mistake, one too many,” said Emery, who’d had the same thing happen on one previous occasion this season. “It’s history now and we’ve got to move on from here.”

Emery’s teammates have adopted the same approach and continue to insist they won’t allow any of this to become a distraction.

“He’s apologized, so I think you can leave it at that,” said centre Mike Fisher. “We’re focused on one thing, which is playing, and we can’t let it be a distraction by any means.

“It’s not like we’re losing sleep over it.”

Martin Gerber has started the last two games for the Senators – both wins – and will get the call again Thursday night against the Boston Bruins at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200). But that’s more a reflection of head coach John Paddock’s new goaltending philosophy: Win and you stay in.

Though he’s not the starter, Emery was among the first Senators to arrive at practice on Wednesday and one of the last to leave the ice. He’s prepared to sit for a bit if the Sens get on a winning streak.

“We’ve got the wait-till-you-lose thing going,” said Emery. “I’m rooting for the team, so I might not play for awhile. But when I do get in there, I want to be ready.”

Head coach John Paddock and general manager Bryan Murray have both made it clear that Emery’s game isn’t yet at the level that made him so successful last season, and that hard work in practice is a huge key to getting him back there.

“For Ray to be out there early today, maybe that’s the best sign that he’s working at his game,” said Paddock.

Added Murray: “I think it’s the same on every team. The team expects you to work hard, play well and give the team a chance to win. It’s no different here. That’s all we are asking.”

With a top-form Emery and Gerber on hand, Murray believes the Senators will have the right goaltending tandem to get back to the Stanley Cup final. And Emery’s teammates know he’ll be a big part of any success they’ll have going forward.

“Everybody knows how talented he is and how good he is in the big games and how valuable he is to the team when he’s at the top of his game,” said centre Jason Spezza. “I think he knows that and it’s going to be a challenge to him personally to get his game back on track.”

Said Fisher: “We know what kind of goaltender he can be and we’ve seen him compete. He battled for us last year and we just want him to get (back) to that form. As a team, we believe he can… we know he can be a great competitor here.”

Goaltending coach Eli Wilson said it’s up to Emery now.

“There’s a lot of small details that make a big difference in a goaltender,” said Wilson. “But without work ethic, you can’t work on those small details. Without those small details, you can’t be a successful goalie at any level of hockey.”

Lineup notes

Captain Daniel Alfredsson, who sat out the third period of Tuesday’s game against the New York Islanders with a sore hip, was excused from practice Wednesday. Paddock used the word “iffy” to describe the prospects of Alfredsson suiting up against the Bruins. “We’ll see (Thursday),” he said … Winger Dany Heatley (separated shoulder) skated with the team in practice but said there’s no timetable yet for his return to the lineup. “We all want to make sure it’s really 100 per cent,” he said. “The big thing is, you don’t want to reinjure it. We’re just going to see how it goes, but it’s gotten better every day since (the injury) … Forwards Patrick Eaves (neck, shoulder) and Cody Bass (foot) remain day-to-day.

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