Emery aiming to stop his skid

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

It cost him three games and therefore likely a few "grrr" in salary, but the suspension Ray Emery received for clobbering Montreal's Maxim Lapierre apparently also cost him something else.

It cost him his groove.

The Senators goalie yesterday admitted to his coach and then the rest of the world he hasn't quite felt right since returning from the week- long penalty he was handed by the NHL for violently objecting to Lapierre's crease intrusion.

His numbers said so before him.

In five starts (including a shortened showing in Fight Night at the HSBC Arena), Emery has a 2-1-1 record but also a bloated goals against average (3.58) and relatively horrid save percentage (.876).

He has also allowed six goals on the last 20 third period shots he has faced, from Atlanta and most recently Pittsburgh.

Clearly, he's not the same Ray Emery who was Ottawa's best player before he snapped that night at the Bell Centre.

"I'm definitely trying to get my feet back under me," said Emery, who added he was "kind of sick" during the suspension. "I've felt better as times went on ... it's just one of those things you go through in a year. It's the right time, I guess. I just want to be ready when the playoffs come along."

The Senators will be making a very early exit if he's not.

Emery, who will start tonight against the Maple Leafs, was pulled aside by his coach during yesterday's practice at the Bell Sensplex.

"He says he hasn't really felt as comfortable since the suspension," said Bryan Murray, who was disappointed in a couple of Pittsburgh's goals during his team's third straight third period collapse Tuesday. "A big part of everything is goaltending. I'm certainly not going to say he has to be the whole story, but on a couple of plays, when we make a mistake, the goaltender covers up for you.

"We had two turnovers. We had our defencemen (Joe Corvo, Tom Preissing) in the wrong position on the tying goal and they created a 2-on-1 because of it, and they got a shooting chance ...

"Ray occasionally makes a stop and covers up ... and he has done a heckuva job in that area."

Emery says his struggles are "not a focus thing," but more a problem with his footwork.

"I'm feeling better, even (Tuesday) night, even though it wasn't my best game," he said. "But I'd just like to play a lot better."

Meanwhile, Murray wasn't quite banging his head on the wall over the team's trend of late. In the last three games, the Senators have gagged on 2-1, 3-1 and 4-1 third-period leads, earning just two (shootout points) of the six that were on the table.

"I would really be concerned if Pittsburgh came out and took it to us, big time. But I didn't think they did that," he said. "I think they got three or four scoring chances, and they scored.

"It wasn't like the momentum totally went away from us. We didn't shoot the puck ... we didn't chip the puck in the way we had in the first two ... I just felt once they got the shorthanded goal, they got excited about the game again. They weren't very excited up until that point in the third period."

Murray also said he didn't spend a lot of time chewing the players out for their follies, nor does he feel he has to remind them that they don't have a reservation for the playoffs just yet.

With 15 games left, the Senators are fourth in the conference, but they are also just nine points up on ninth-place Carolina.

"These guys are very astute people," Murray said of his players. "They know it's a race to the finish line, that there are no guarantees (a playoff spot) is a lock, by any means. We talk about these things all the time.

"The bottom line is we just have to play right. When we were playing right, a week ago, we were the hottest team since Christmas. Then we go into a tailspin and now we have to address that part of it. We have to play normal hockey."

"I don't have to hammer them everyday," he added. "They didn't have to get hammered today, for an example. They know exactly what happened."

THIS AND THAT: Asked about Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal and his NHL record (for a rookie) seventh shorthanded goal, Murray had this to say: "The kid has a knack to put the puck in the net, there's no question. For some reason, he makes every goaltender look like they're not in the net. He did that (Tuesday) night, the kid does that to other goaltenders, too." ... Chris Kelly wasn't talking about being a challenger for the team's next hardest shot competition even though his 13th goal of the season, a slapper he took with a sore hand, overpowered (yeah, that's it) Marc-Andre Fleury Tuesday. "Alfie made a great play, I just tried to get it on net," said Kelly. "I was more surprised than anyone it went in." ... Contestants on Rogers' Your Screen Test were at Scotiabank Place interviewing some Senators yesterday.

Noteworthy

The Senators have a 4-1-1 record against the Leafs this season ... Last two Ottawa-Toronto games have extended past three periods ....

D Chris Phillips, who turns 29 tomorrow, scored in OT for the Sens in last victory over the Leafs, Dec. 30 in Toronto .... The Leafs won the last meeting in a shootout, Feb. 3 in Ottawa ... The other three meetings have been lopsided, with the Senators picking up 4-1, 6-2 and 7-2 victories while the Leafs lone regulation time win was by a 6-0 score ... The Senators lead the all-time series with Toronto, 33-17-3-3 ... The Senators are 17-7-1-2 against the Leafs in Ottawa ... The Leafs are coming off Tuesday's 3-0 win over Washington. Andrew Raycroft stopped 24 shots for the shutout. Darcy Tucker scored his 20th goal of the season, in his second game back after missing 24 with a foot injury ... Dany Heatley has two of Ottawa's three hat tricks all-time against the Maple Leafs ... Heatley has nine goals in his last eight games ... In 22 career games vs. the Leafs, Heatley has 19 goals and 17 assists ... Nik Antropov has scored in two of Toronto's last three games.


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