When Ray Emery regales his grandkids with stories about his rookie season in the NHL, he'll no doubt refer to the "bad bounces and funny haircuts" that marked his first slump.
"I started catching a lot of flak there," he said with a grin yesterday morning, a few hours after his third shutout (and second in two weeks) sent another group of those who doubted his ability to stop a puck at the NHL level the way of his fashion critics.
"It wasn't really, totally negative things I was doing. We had some guys out of the lineup ... it was only seven periods that I didn't do that well. I wasn't feeling that bad about myself. I wasn't doing much different than I am now."
Maybe not, but the perception is Dominik Hasek's backup has suddenly found his game while Hasek sits on the sidelines, unplugged. And the numbers back it up.
Since taking over the reins as the Senators' No. 1 goalie, Emery has bounced back big time from those "seven periods" during which he allowed a horrific 17 goals. He has a 9-1-1 record, a 1.98 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage, stopping 276-of-298 pucks sent his way.
He also has something even more important: The confidence of coaches and teammates who were privately wondering and even worrying about Plan B if something happened to Hasek.
'PLAYED A GOOD GAME'
"I think he played a good game ... to say it was his best would be difficult," coach Bryan Murray said of Emery's 22-save performance --which was highlighted by tremendous third-period stops off Scott Gomez and Patrick Elias -- in Sunday's 4-0 win over Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils.
"He made two or three big saves to preserve the shutout ... he certainly feels comfortable out there, just as the guys he plays with feel positive when Ray plays. He has fitted in real nice.
"To have a second goalie who can play and win games in this league is huge. For a young goalie who will possibly be the guy here for a long time ... to get the confidence of your teammates is really big."
Murray scoffed when asked if he was going to give newcomer Mike Morrison his first start tonight, with the last-place Penguins in town.
"Mike Morrison?" he asked. "Ray just had a shutout. Ray will play."
As could very well be the case until Hasek returns from the adductor injury that has him out indefinitely, Murray suggested. And if Hasek somehow doesn't return for the playoffs?
"I'd put Ray in and he'd be good," said Murray. "It's going to be the same team, they'll just be playing a little tighter (defensively)."
As a pro, Emery is 10-12 in the playoffs. He, too, referred to the tighter checking, and how such a style helps a goalie. He, too, denied the notion he'd be bothered by playing in the playoffs, with the huge pressures that will be facing an Ottawa team expected to succeed.
"The playoffs are definitely different," said Emery. "Some guys react differently to it ... I love that atmosphere. You're under the microscope every game. People hate you when you lose and love you when you win. It's cool. Dom's going to be back by then, but I guess you never know what can happen. If I get the chance, I'll be more than happy to play."
And if he has to, the Senators and their fans will be a lot easier with the idea than they would have been before the break.