Daily Debate: Memorable goalie fights ... and a possible Ray Emery return?

February, 3, 2011
2/03/11
10:55
AM ET

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun reminiscence about some of the more memorable goalie fights in NHL history, and also provide an update on Ray Emery's potential NHL comeback:

Burnside: Greetings, my friend. Well, it wasn't exactly Patrick Roy and Mike Vernon, but it's always interesting to see goaltenders involved in a dustup. The latest came in the final seconds of Wednesday's 3-0 Pittsburgh victory over the lowly New York Islanders. Brent Johnson followed up a solid 20-save outing with a one-punch knockdown of Islanders netminder Rick DiPietro. DiPietro had gone after Matt Cooke following the Pens' empty-net goal, and Johnson skated the length of the ice and dropped a bomb on DiPietro, who seemed to be smiling just before Johnson landed the punch.

It seems the Islanders can't even get that part of the game right. While I'm not a big fight fan and think the NHL should be taking a harder stand on the appointment fights that are a blight on the game, nothing rallies a team like a goalie who is willing to drop the mitts.

LeBrun: My favorite goalie fight was when Felix Potvin stunned Ron Hextall. What Hextall and many before him didn't know was that Potvin knew his way around the fisticuffs.

"It's funny because people are still surprised by it," Potvin told me for a piece I wrote on him in November 2008. "It's something that will follow me for a long time. It was a good memory. ... My three junior seasons in Chicoutimi, we had a pretty tough team. By the end of practice, guys were joking around and fighting. I guess it helped."

As for DiPietro, you can't blame him for feeling frustrated; another lost season on Long Island, another disappointing season for him. And losing to a Penguins team that had no Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin? Enough is enough. I don't fault DiPietro. (By the way, checked with the league and neither DiPietro nor Johnson face any fines or further discipline.)

Burnside: I happened to be in attendance at perhaps the greatest goalie fight of all time at Joe Louis Arena in March 2008, when the Detroit Red Wings beat the Colorado Avalanche and Patrick Roy and Mike Vernon went toe-to-toe at center ice. That's the night Darren McCarty beat up Claude Lemieux in retribution for his hit on Kris Draper the season before and then came back to score the winner in overtime (how he was still in the game remains a giant mystery, but I digress).

The Red Wings often referred to that emotional win as a springboard to what would result in back-to-back Stanley Cup wins. Not saying this is anything close, but I think Johnson's jumping to Cooke's defense (and remember, it's a long way for a goalie to travel from crease to crease) suggests this is a very tight-knit Penguins team. And you're right, no Malkin, no Crosby, and the Pens again earn two points to keep the pressure on Philadelphia for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. They are a very tough team to play against, on all levels.

LeBrun: Speaking of goalies who like to drop the gloves, Ray Emery appears close to returning to the game. I wrote last fall about his courageous comeback from a hip surgery/condition that should have ended his career.

Late Wednesday night, my "Hockey Night in Canada" colleague Kevin Weekes tweeted that he wouldn't be surprised if Emery ended up with the Anaheim organization. Weekes, a former NHL goalie himself, is tight with Emery. I texted Emery before going to bed, and the former Philadelphia and Ottawa netminder told me he couldn't say anything about any team just yet. His agent, J.P. Barry of CAA Sports, had this to say to me via e-mail:

"He is ready to play. He has worked amazingly hard and feels ready. He wants to join a team next week.'"

The Ducks appear to be in the mix and, given GM Paul Holmgren's fondness for Emery, I'd be surprised if the Flyers didn't at least return a phone call. Having said that, the Flyers have a lot of goalies. I'm told a couple of others teams are also sniffing. Emery would likely begin his comeback in the AHL.

Burnside: Well, that's a nice segue given that we started talking about the Islanders, the new NHL home of Evgeni Nabokov. It was, after all, the Detroit Red Wings that started the Nabokov derby by signing him to a one-year deal. The Islanders then scooped him up, but Emery would not have to pass through waivers since he hasn't played this season. Would the Wings take a chance on Emery? They won 7-5 in Ottawa on Wednesday night, but GM Ken Holland is clearly worried about his goaltending depth because Chris Osgood is on the shelf with a groin problem.

Emery's playoff experience would be a nice addition for the Wings, and if he can stay healthy, he is the kind of goalie who would thrive in Detroit. And what about the Avs? Last in the league in goals against and lots of cap room, plus they wouldn't have to give up any assets to take a run at Emery. If he is healthy, this could be the feel-good story of the season.

LeBrun: Jimmy Howard appears to have lost some of his confidence after a brilliant rookie season. His .904 save percentage is 29th among NHL goalies. Not what the Wings want to see in what is shaping up to be another run at the Cup, and not what Howard wants during a contract year. I agree with you -- Emery could be nice insurance behind Howard and Osgood, especially with Ozzie on the mend. I texted Wings GM Ken Holland this morning and he said they had no interest in Emery. Oh well. Until tomorrow, my friend.

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