Flyers look forward to a healthy competition in goal

Posted: September 15, 2013

ASK FLYERS goaltending coach Jeff Reese about the upcoming season, and it is tough to get him to stop smiling - which says a lot for man with perhaps the toughest coaching job in Philadelphia sports.

"You can tell I'm excited about the two of them," Reese said. "It's going to be a good combination."

There is an honest sense of excitement and intrigue in Ray Emery and Steve Mason entering training camp, and Reese can feel it. It's a particularly strange feeling, considering no one - not even the Flyers' coaching staff - is sure who will be in net on Oct. 2 in the opener against Toronto.

For the Flyers, it's a departure from the norm. For the first time in 3 years, they are taking a tandem approach to goaltending. It's a different leaguewide approach as a whole, since only the Florida Panthers ($2.8 million) will spend less on the position than the Flyers ($3.15 million).

Ilya Bryzgalov's departure also presents a marked change in the locker room, something chairman Ed Snider noted yesterday when he said there "wasn't a great rapport among all our players."

So, when you hear both Emery and Mason talk about their looming competition, the key word everyone involved uses is "healthy." With Bryzgalov, the relationship between goaltender and team seemed poisonous at times.

You could see a difference in the Flyers' on-ice play late last season, as Mason won four of his six starts and rolled to a 1.90 goals-against average after being acquired at the April trade deadline. Reese said Mason's Flyers teammates "loved him."

"When you are bringing in a goaltender who can play like Ray can, it's a healthy competition," Mason said. "We're on the same team here, playing for the same goal. Whether Ray is in net, or I am in net, we're going to support each other. Our goal is to provide the Flyers with solid goaltending."

Mason, 25, said he wanted to get a head start on his relationship in July by asking for Emery's phone number. Both Emery and Mason train in Toronto. They traded text messages and checked in often throughout the summer.

Reese said Emery already is familiar with a healthy tandem relationship. He went 1 and 1A with Corey Crawford in Chicago last season, helping the Blackhawks win a Stanley Cup.

"There's no better example than Ray in Chicago last year," Reese said. "They both had a great year and then [Crawford] got hot in the playoffs. But Ray helped get them those Game 7s in their own building and home-ice advantage."

Reese, who won a Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay in 2004 with Vinny Lecavalier, is excited because Emery will finally be a veteran presence Mason has needed.

Even when Mason started for Columbus, when he won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2008-09, he never had a true veteran backup with loads of experience to lean on. The list of names who rode the bench when Mason started is long and undistinguished: Pascal Leclaire, Mathieu Garon, Curtis Sanford. He battled with Sergei Bobrovsky last January before Bobrovsky went on to win the Vezina Trophy during the shortened season.

"Now we're getting a veteran in Ray who is coming off a tremendous season. To win 17 games and only lose one is just incredible," Reese said. "He's a guy who beat the odds. He's going to work with 'Mase' and push 'Mase.' "

Emery said he already has a good relationship with Mason and he expects it to get even better.

Emery, 30, is taking everyone advantage of his second, "second chance" in the NHL. The Flyers were the team that gave him a chance in 2009, bringing him back from exile in Russia after he earned a bad-boy reputation in Ottawa. His comeback was cut short when he was forced to undergo career-threatening hip surgery in 2010 that involved a bone graft.

Three seasons later, Emery was 17-1-3 with a sterling 1.94 GAA in Chicago. Reese said Emery will "win a lot of games" for the Flyers this season.

"Ray fits into the Philly mentality," Reese said. "He's just a battler, a gritty guy who wants to win. The biggest thing that I've noticed with Ray is that it's a blessing for him every time he steps on that ice. Everyone thought he was done. He's not taking anything for granted. Every time he puts those pads on, he seems to be very appreciative of that."

Last spring's trade to the Flyers was also a rebirth, of sorts, for Mason. With Bobrovsky in the fold, the Blue Jackets were amazingly willing to give up on a young former star for only the expiring contract of Michael Leighton and a third-round pick.

"He was beaten down there," Reese said. "It seemed people probably stopped believing him. When a player senses that, it's probably a lot harder to dig your way out of it. He's got a guy that's got his back in Ray. That's a big difference. It's not like he is going to burden the whole city and have to pick it up on his back. They're going to do it together."

On Twitter: @DNFlyers


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