Friday, November 01, 2013

Emery has to play more for short-term investment to mature

Although he's presumably here just for this year, a 17-1-0 mark hasn't counted for much when you're wearing out a groove sitting in the backup's spot on the bench for most of your team's horrendous start to the regular season.

Think about it: your General Manager takes a Flyer -- pun intended -- on a Stanley Cup-winning second-stringer who was a starter here four years ago, admits one reason behind signing him to a $1.65 million contract this year was aforementioned record, and also admits that he hopes the signing will create competition for the guy who you hope (Steve Mason) will resume his former Calder Trophy-winning form.

In the simplest terms and the most convenient definition, to set the wheels in motion on a true crease competition, take a 10-game block and give both men a crack at five starts each. After that, it should be easy to determine which player has done more with his opportunity and give that player the majority of the starts until either injury or inconsistency leads the coaching staff to re-evaluate.

That clearly hasn't been done thus far. 

In this season's first 10-game block, Mason was given the crease for eight and Emery two, with the latter only seeing action one week apart, road losses in Montreal and Detroit where the defense did little to aid his cause and Emery himself perhaps less.

Although the Flyers have had what seemed to be an advantageous October slate, only one back-to-back within the first three games of the season and seven home games in their first 11, the scales are obviously tipped towards Mason. He ended up with nine starts in the season's first month.

Why is that? Because the organization clearly wants Mason to take the reins. There is no competition, either hinted by the front office or drummed up by the local media. It's Mason's job to win or lose, and he's apparently done well despite the Orange and Black's record-setting 1-7-0 beginning and 3-8 October.

Still, think of this: if Mason falters at any point, how can Emery properly come in and work his magic if he's only starting once every week or two? Mason has done well because he's been given a 450-percent better chance to do well. Put Emery in the same situation and who's to say that the script won't be flipped?

November features a back-to-back right away this weekend, home against Washington tonight and at New Jersey on Saturday, with five games total in the first nine days of the month. There are two more instances of back-to-back before December arrives, so the sked is practically grabbing Craig Berube by his poppy-laden lapel to be smart and give Emery more chances to spell Mason.

Sure, 10 of Emery's 17 victories last season came against non-playoff teams and he was playing behind a Cup-caliber defense in Chicago. Unplanned as it is, after the smiles which permeated his July re-introduction to Philadelphia, this year provides a test of professionalism and character for the once-fiery 31-year-old.

If things continue the way they are and the Flyers don't turn it around on either goaltender's back, Emery's going to be playing for a new contract in a new town, and just has to focus on playing well win or lose. Yet, if he's not getting the reps right from the start or is tapped to play a tough opponent, it will take longer to acclimate and find some form of rhythm whenever he's called on and the results may spell disaster.

In October alone, Emery could have easily been given duty in home games against Phoenix and Vancouver, then against the Islanders on the road last weekend. That would have created the ideal even split.

For the upcoming slate, if Berube is intent on sending Mason in net for games against important division foes, give him the Caps, one of the Devils games and Carolina. Emery then sees work in the other Devils game and then when Edmonton comes to Philly at the end of the five-game sub-block. Beyond that, Ottawa in the next set of back-to-backs, then take your pick of either Florida or Tampa Bay on the road before Thanksgiving and then at Nashville to end the month.

By the end of this season, if Emery doesn't see close to 25 starts, his signing was an abject failure and more to the point, will likely damage his chances to get a better deal with another club. He won't want to come back here to be a statue in heavy padding.

A weapon unused is a useless weapon, and Emery's track record -- not to mention that shiny ring -- clearly indicates he's deserving of the same chance Mason has been granted.
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