Ray Emery proves to be reliable once again

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Ray Emery proves to be reliable once again

These aren’t easy games for a goaltender to get comfortable between the pipes. Not when your team is throwing a season-high 46 shots at the other net.

Not when there are long gaps between seeing shots coming at you.

Not when there are 14 penalties and 12 power plays and it becomes a special teams battle.

And not when the goalie is making just his sixth start in 21 games.

Ray Emery handled all things well -- again -- with 29 saves during Thursday’s 4-1 win over Buffalo (see story), as the Flyers hit the quarter mark of the season (21 games).

Emery said all the special teams action caught and held his attention.

“When we’re shorthanded and watching the other guy [Ryan Miller] make some big saves when they’re starting in the other end, you know you’ve got to be sharp when it gets to your end,” he said.

“I thought we had a good start. Miller made some really good saves at the start, then they got a funny one. After that we kept at it and only got a couple in the second. We kept coming at them and had the win.”

Emery evened his record at 3-3.

“After a tough start, it’s nice to climb back to even,” Emery said. “It’s always like a fresh start when you get there. It’s encouraging as a team. We’re playing better. We’re getting the points we need to.”

Buffalo’s only goal was off a scrum when it was pretty difficult to find the puck among a pile of bodies in the crease, let alone stop the shot.

“[Emery] was solid again,” said Flyers coach Craig Berube. “He has done a really good job. He is a very good goalie and wins a lot of games. He goes in there and wins games.”

On the playoffs
The Flyers went into the game two points out of a playoff spot. They are back in the hunt and have been for over a week now.

“I never thought about it at all,” Berube said. “I am going to take it one day at a time. We’re going to come out tomorrow and practice and we’re going to work to get better.”

Was that because there was simply so much work to be done that being a playoff team was the last thing on the coach's mind?

“You have to keep working at it,” Berube replied. “If you want to become a really good team in this league, it takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of preparation and it takes playing the same way every shift, going out there and playing the same way every shift. So, you have to stay on it.”

Loose pucks
Jakub Voracek played just 14:03 and had just five shifts and less than four minutes ice time in the third period. Berube said Voracek wasn’t hurt. He said he wanted to get Adam Hall out there for his defense and having another centerman on draws. Hall is the Flyers' best faceoff guy (63 percent), though he only took three draws in the game. … The Flyers had a season-high 46 shots, giving them back-to-back games of 40 or more shots for the first time since Nov. 27 and Dec. 1, 2010, when they had 41 shots at New Jersey and 41 shots at home against Boston, respectively. ... Zac Rinaldo had six hits in just 6:21 ice time. ... The Flyers scored a power-play goal for the fifth consecutive game. Alas, they also allowed a power-play goal for the fourth consecutive game.

Best of NHL: Wild beat Blackhawks to grab 1st place in Western Conference

Best of NHL: Wild beat Blackhawks to grab 1st place in Western Conference

CHICAGO -- Jason Pominville scored in the third period, Devan Dubnyk made 33 saves and the Minnesota Wild beat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 on Sunday night to grab sole possession of the top spot in the Western Conference.

Nino Niederreiter and Chris Stewart also scored as Minnesota earned its fourth straight win and improved to 17-1-1 since Dec. 4. The Wild also beat the Blackhawks for the eighth straight time.

Minnesota (28-9-5) jumped in front for good when Marco Scandella shot the puck behind the net and it caromed right to Pominville standing all alone on the right side of the crease. He knocked it into the open net for his sixth of the season at 5:08.

Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter was sent off for tripping with 22.4 seconds left, but Chicago was unable to get a good look with a 6-on-4 advantage.

Patrick Kane scored twice for the Blackhawks and Corey Crawford made 29 stops (see full recap).

Hall nets OT winner as Devils top Canucks
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Taylor Hall scored 1:28 into overtime to lift the New Jersey Devils to a 2=1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday.

Skating on a 2-on-1 with Damon Severson, Hall chose to hold the puck and beat Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom through the legs.

Kyle Quincey scored the tying goal with 3:03 left in the second period and Cory Schneider stopped 21 shots to help the Devils win their second straight after losing four in a row.

Loui Eriksson scored for the Canucks and Markstrom finished with 20 saves for the Canucks, losers of four straight after winning six in a row coming out of the holiday break (see full recap).

Flyers Weekly Observations: Everything coming apart at the seams

Flyers Weekly Observations: Everything coming apart at the seams

That week was… not pretty.

Not by a long shot.

The Flyers’ busy week saw them play five games in an eight-day stretch and come out on the winning side of things just once. Overall, the Flyers went 1-3-1 last week with a 2-1 overtime loss in Columbus, a disheartening 4-1 defeat in Buffalo, a wild 5-4 shootout win over visiting Vancouver, an ugly 6-3 loss in Boston and an even uglier 5-0 loss in Washington.

There’s a lot to digest in this week’s Flyers Weekly Observations, and, needless to say, not much of it is good.

Where to even begin?

• Let’s start with Shayne Gostisbehere’s benching on Saturday afternoon in Boston, the second healthy scratch of the season for last season’s runner up to the Calder Trophy. Let’s face it, the 23-year-old defenseman has not played great this season. He’s struggled mightily defensively and he’s had a miserable time hitting the net in the offensive zone, among other warts in his game. He’s obviously not alone. After all, this 3-8-3 skid is rooted in shoddy defensive play in all zones. But he has not played well. We all know offense is Gostisbehere’s strength, but he’s got just four goals and 15 assists in 46 games. And he’s sporting a minus-17 after Sunday's loss. Dave Hakstol is obviously not happy with his young defenseman’s game and figured the best course of action would be to let Gostisbehere sit down, observe and clear his head. And I get that thought process. Sometimes that’s a good thing. But I’m of the belief it’s best to let a young player play through his struggles. Gostisbehere’s going to have to get used to doing that because this will not be the only time in his career he will struggle. It happens to every player, even the best ones. And it’s even tougher to defend Ghost’s benching with as poorly as Michael Del Zotto and Brandon Manning played in the previous game against Vancouver.

• Speaking of which, those stick penalties Del Zotto and Manning took over and over again in the first period against the Canucks were just careless and put the Flyers into a hole that could have been a lot deeper if not for the play of the penalty kill and Steve Mason. That’s the stuff that can just kill a team, and that’s the stuff that’s also very avoidable.

• One play really stuck out to me during Saturday’s loss to the Bruins in Beantown. The Flyers were down 5-3 early in the third period and attacking in the Bruins' zone when Jake Voracek hit Sean Couturier with a slick cross-ice pass. Couturier had net to shoot at and a chance to cut it to a one-goal game, but instead skated to the side of the net and backhanded the puck into the crowded slot and turned it over. When you’re down two in the third period, you need to shoot there. Even if Tuukka Rask stops it, you never know if there’s going to be a rebound. It was an example of how Couturier needs to be more aggressive offensively on a consistent basis. Especially after he was aggressive against Vancouver with a goal and a post hit after a beautiful offensive rush.

• What was that effort in Buffalo on Tuesday night? Credit the improving Sabres for playing well and earning the win, but the Flyers were just lifeless out there on the ice.

• Let’s chat some about those goalie interference calls that didn’t go the Flyers’ way in Columbus last weekend. Michael Raffl was squeezed into Sergei Bobrovsky and barely made contact with the Jackets’ goalie on the first one. Raffl is entitled to that space just as much as anyone else on the ice. It’s a hockey play, plain and simple. No idea how that one was overturned. Contact was made with Mason’s skate on the second one, but I believe that call was eventually correct as the goal stood. The problem is this: They were two similar plays with limited contact made with the goaltender. The league can’t have one count there and one not. The league is creating itself a very unnecessary grey area with those calls.

• On the NBC national telecast of Sunday’s debacle in Washington, analyst Brian Boucher said something to the effect of the Flyers were in the process of quitting the game after the Caps’ fourth goal, which was scored early in the third period. And it was hard to disagree him with what we all saw. Things can become fragile over these kinds of skids and it just seems recently when one thing goes wrong with for the Flyers, everything comes apart at the seams.

• Brayden Schenn’s stat line so far this season is uneven, literally. He’s got 14 goals on the season, but a league-leading 11 have come on the power play. So that’s 79 percent of Schenn’s goal-scoring coming on the man advantage. That’s obviously great for when the Flyers are on the power play, but with how they’re averaging 1.79 goals per game over this recent 3-8-3 stretch, that could really use it at even strength. That goes for everybody.

• I’m not sure how I feel about the bye week. On one hand, it comes at the right time as the Flyers can rest, recharge and get their heads straight after this awful stretch. On the other hand, it’s no secret this team could REALLY use the practice time right now just to get back to the basics and for the players just to get their footing back underneath themselves. They’ll next be able to practice Friday afternoon.

Coming up this week: Saturday vs. New Jersey (7 p.m./TCN), Sunday at New York Islanders (6 p.m./CSN)