VOORHEES, N.J. – The Flyers ended their final preseason practice with a bit of a fun competition.
Forwards and defensemen all took turns having breakaways on one of the two Flyers goalies.
Once a skater scored, he would take a knee and watch the rest of the competition. If a skater missed, or was stopped by the goalie, he had to get back in line to take another turn.
This process would continue until there was one player left who didn’t score who would also be the target of much playful chiding from his teammates.
Long story short, it took awhile before the group could start razzing Adam Hall, the only shooter not to score.
What may have been all about fun and laughs to the skaters was great repetition for the goalies, who are often charged with securing that extra point in a game that slinks into a shootout.
Both goalies know that those points can be critical in a season where playoff spots are often determined by a single point, or even a tiebreaker.
So to see them continually stop the Flyers skaters time after time was evidence that they know the spotlight will be on them, and they are trying to prove they will be up for the challenge.
Maybe that’s why some of the Flyers best scorers were straggling toward the end of the completion, shooting three or four times on the goalies without much success.
Jake Voracek screamed louder and louder with mock frustration with each save made against him.
And yet, at the end, Emery and Mason skated off the ice together, patted each other on the back and nodded toward each other with that “job well done” smile.
It’s a tag team tandem that looks at their jobs much in the same way that a collection of starting pitchers on a baseball team look at theirs.
Each game, somebody will be called on to help the team win, and while they are on the mound… or in the crease in this instance… the others will be lustily cheering them along.
When teams have two go-to goalies, as the Flyers do in this instance, it’s easy to start tossing around words such as “controversy” or “competition.”
However, as teams will often tell you, there is no such thing and the goalies are working together unselfishly toward the ultimate goal of team success.
Sometimes, they are blowing smoke to cover up any potential discord. However, sometimes it’s the truth, and the two goalies genuinely like one another and pull for one another.
Considering Emery and Mason have worked out in the offseason together before ever becoming teammates, it’s a good bet that in this case, it’s the latter and not the former.
But it’s easy to say that from the outside. It’s easy to be a fan or an analyst or a journalist and take one side or the other. It’s easy to portray a message either of contempt or togetherness.
What’s not easy, is being in the skates of Emery and Mason, who are the players who will likely be the most scrutinized – fairly or not – for the Flyers this season.
So, it’s going to be on them to wear the brave face and talk about the Flyers goaltending situation ad nauseam.
“Everybody wants to put [their] spin on it,” Mason said. “But, Razor and myself, our job is just to provide real solid goaltending for this team this season and push each other in practice to be better.
“I’m not out there to battle Ray or anything like that, I’m just trying to get better in my own, individual way, and if he’s out there pushing me, that’s a good thing.”
Emery has a similar stance on the whole situation as Mason.
“It’s definitely a tandem,” Emery said. “We’re excited to work together. We both want to be in the net, but we both want each other to do well, too. However that sorts itself out, we’ll be fine with it as long as the team has success.”
And that was certainly one of the offseason goals by general manager Paul Holmgren – to put a team together that was unselfish and had a team-first mentality.
It’s why the players that were brought in were not just veterans, but leaders and guys who obviously grasped the notion of team-first as far as a mantra toward that ultimate success.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a competitive drive in both goalies, because there is. They wouldn’t be professional athletes without it.
Both guys are on one-year contracts and are looking for future deals. Both players would like to be the starter for the Flyers. Both have been starters before and had a measure of success in those roles, and both have been backups as well.
They get it. They understand it. They’re happy with it.
And Holmgren made it clear that they are a pair and that they will work together to fill one role.
“We have two good goalies who will work extremely hard as a tandem to help the team win,” he said.
Normally, teams don’t win the Stanley Cup by alternating goaltenders. Instead, someone has to seize the reins of the position and lead the team to the promised land.
However, it doesn’t always have to be a goaltending stalwart.
Emery saw first hand last season how that tandem process worked. He went 17-1-0 for the Chicago Blackhawks with a 1.94 goals against average and a .922 save percentage during the regular season – and ended up as the backup for the entire playoffs to Corey Crawford.
Emery accepted his role, supported Crawford and celebrated with a Stanley Cup victory – the Blackhawks second in four seasons – with two different goalies by the way.
They beat Boston in the Finals. The Bruins were making their second finals appearance in three seasons – with two different goalies as well.
If anyone knows that you can win with a goaltending tandem, it’s Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, who, in 2005-06, won the Stanley Cup behind rookie goalie Cam Ward. Ward was the backup to Martin Gerber for the entire season, but took over in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals and never looked back.
Laviolette also used multiple goaltenders – mostly out of necessity because of injury – in guiding the Flyers to the Finals in 2010.
“I don’t think it’s a competition,” he said. “The goalies are working hard and have looked good in practice and played well in the preseason games and you are going to see a lot of both goaltenders.
“We plan on utilizing both of them and I think it will be advantageous to keep our goalies fresh and we have that luxury.”
A luxury that the Flyers hope can carry them throughout the long grind of the season until a decision, one way or the other, has to be made.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
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