There are few players who know Ray Emery better than Ottawa sniper Jason Spezza.
The Flyers are taking on the Senators tonight, Emery's former team, and Spezza was the first name Emery blurted out when mentioning the players he was looking forward to seeing.
Emery was in Spezza's wedding party this summer and the two lived together for a year in Binghamton. They were often shuttling back and forth between the minors when their careers were just getting started, after being a part of the same draft class in 2001.
Like most of the players who witnessed the Emery drama firsthand in Canada's capital city, Spezza thought that the traffic stops, tardiness and fighting at practice were overblown.
"It's unfortunate for us, the way everything happened," Spezza told Ottawa reporters. "He brought on a little bit of the attention, but a lot of it was things were getting blown out of proportion by the end. It always seemed like people wanted to run him out of town."
That's why Spezza, who has 11 points in 13 games this season, was happy to see him land in the NHL again after a yearlong stint in Russia's Kontinental League.
"I think it worked out well for him that he got a chance to get out of town and away from everything," Spezza said. "He's doing great. He's having lots of fun there and enjoying it, away from the media. [Philly] gets full houses without the attention we get here."
Some of the Flyers chimed in after yesterday's practice, claiming unfair headlines damaged Emery's reputation prior to coming here.
"He obviously had a reputation for doing all of these things that we've read about," Chris Pronger said. "All I was hoping for was that he was going to stop the puck. He's done a very good job of doing that. That other stuff can get blown out of proportion pretty easily.
"You obviously want to support a player who has come in here under a lot of scrutiny with a lot of eyeballs on him. He's performed very well."
It's hard to mount an argument against that. Emery, who has posted a 9-3-1 record, is in the leaguewide Top 10 in both save percentage (.922) and goals against average (2.27). Longtime Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson joked yesterday that he hoped Emery hadn't "worked on his game too much since he left here" because he was that good.
Off the ice, he has made a believer out of Flyers coach John Stevens.
"I laughed the other day [going to Buffalo], it was a record, he was on the plane before I was," Stevens said. "I've been pleasantly surprised with who he is, how he conducts himself, how team-oriented and how hard he works. He's really a quiet guy. You can almost say he's shy at times. He has his own personality."
Despite the Canadian media hoopla - along with the television cameras that arrived in Philly a day earlier than normal - the Senators insist that tonight isn't a grudge match. Emery allegedly caused a rift in the Ottawa dressing room and cost current Flyers assistant general manager John Paddock, who was the Senators' coach at the time, his job.
Finishing 11th in the East last year, they still haven't completely recovered.
"I think most of our guys like Ray," said Senators coach Cory Clouston, who recalled that Emery got him his first win as coach in Binghamton. "They're just going to play it like any other game. They're going to try and get traffic and try to make him work hard for anything he gets. If you have to look for those type of reasons to get up for games, there's something wrong."
In fact, Emery said himself that tonight's game "is a game." Only eight players from that 2007 Stanley Cup finals run remain.
"You want to win maybe a bit more," Emery said. "But each game is equally important."
Unlike when Emery was in Ottawa, no one was willing to publicly inflate the meaning of tonight's game. That's fine with the Flyers.
"We certainly haven't seen anything [negative] here," Pronger said. "With our guys, he's found a home."
It looks as if Danny Briere will return to the lineup tonight. Briere has missed time with a right quad injury since the Oct. 27 game in Washington. He will likely be joined by James van Riemsdyk, who seems to have adjusted to playing with his broken and stitched left pinkie finger. That means that David Laliberte - who has posted three points in four games - would likely be loaned back to Adirondack. The Flyers are unlikely to have defensemen Ryan Parent (groin) or Ole-Kristian Tollefsen (concussion) in the lineup, enabling Oskars Bartulis to make his NHL debut. John Stevens hopes both players will be ready for Saturday.
Ray Emery will likely be opposed by Pascal Leclaire in net . . . Ottawa has been very healthy this year. The only impact player slated to miss tonight's game is Anton Volchenkov . . . Utilizing a day off from school for Veterans Day, 25 players from the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation enjoyed a morning skate on Wachovia Center ice yesterday . . . On Day 2 of the NHL's general manager meetings, the GMs proposed rule changes aimed at reducing hits to the head after a 4-hour discussion . . . There are approximately 1,075 tickets available for tonight's game, which is Dollar Pretzel Night.