When it was announced that Steve Mason would miss the beginning of the Flyers’ first round playoff series against the New York Rangers, a gasp of despair could be heard echoing through the streets of Philadelphia. It was never a complaint against Ray Emery, but Flyers’ management has made a long-term investment into Mason and we wanted to see our starting, clear number one netminder face off against the Rangers. After Game 2, the Delaware Valley is wondering whether Emery wouldn’t be the better option to start in Game three–regardless of the health of Mason.
Looking at the season statistics, it is clear that Mason has been the better goalie this year, but Emery, ‘Razor’ as his teammates call him, certainly isn’t a starting-caliber goalie, and does have a great deal of playoff experience. These reasons alone do not determine who is who should start in Game 3.
Many Flyers pundits feel that Mason should rest up for Game four so that he is definitely at 100%, and let ‘Razor’ ride his hot streak out another game. If Emery plays well in Game three, it becomes pretty clear that the Flyers should stick with him for the rest of the series. If not, they will have a fully-rested and healthy Mason to go back to for Game four. You do run the risk there that Emery struggles in Game three, but don’t you run the risk that Mason comes back and is rusty, while you have a seemingly hot goalie on the bench in Emery, if you start Mason?
During Game two, the game commentators blamed the two goals that Emery allowed on his lingering hip issues, which in turn cause his lateral movement to be lacking. I couldn’t disagree more.
Ray Emery, like most goaltenders in today’s NHL, makes saves by dropping into the Butterfly, or where his knees fall to the ice and his glove and blocker expand. What is different about Emery is that he drops into the Butterfly ever so slightly before most other goalies drop into the butterfly. This anticipation, this ability to anticipate shots, was put on display in Game two.
On the first two goals, Emery was left to dry by his defense and didn’t anticipate anything. I do not think it is his hip that is causing him to not move laterally well. Lateral movement is not how he plays goalie; he anticipates shots and eats them up, not allowing rebounds. When he got into his groove, he was anticipating everything, finishing the night by saving 31 of 33 shots with a .939 save percentage with very few juicy rebounds.
On the other hand, Steve Mason uses his superior athleticism and flexibility to react to shots. This is why he has more flashy saves and isn’t particularly fantastic during shootouts.
While one style isn’t necessarily better than the other, because anticipation is key for Emery’s style, I would let him play in Game 3. I think that because he anticipated everything after the Rangers two early goals in the first period, he should continue to play against an opposition he is now familiar with and has proven that he can shut the door on. Mason is a very good goalie, but Michael Leighton beat out two other superior goalies to lead the Flyers to the Finals four years ago, just because he was hot. ‘Razor’ has the potential to get hot, and a hot goalie is crucial in making a playoff run.