Michael Leighton's emergence appeared to be just what the Philadelphia Flyers needed with Ray Emery sidelined. With Emery's return on the horizon, the journeyman netminder may have turned in one of his worst performances of the season at an unfortunate time.
Leighton will likely be in net for a seventh consecutive game Wednesday night when the Flyers host the Toronto Maple Leafs in a meeting of last-place clubs.
The Flyers (19-19-3) signed Emery to a one-year contract in June after he spent last season in Russia. The veteran went 11-4-1 with a 2.22 goals-against average and a shutout in his first 16 games for Philadelphia.
He followed that up by losing four in a row with a 5.34 GAA, and underwent surgery on a torn muscle in his abdominal wall sustained during an 8-2 loss to Washington on Dec. 5.
The injury forced the Flyers to claim Leighton off waivers from Carolina on Dec. 15, and he won his first four starts while posting a 1.47 GAA and one shutout.
Leighton's hot streak has since come to an end. He allowed two goals on seven shots in Sunday's 7-4 loss at Ottawa, and got pulled 9:07 into the opening period. That performance came two nights after he made 24 saves in a 2-1 overtime loss to Boston in the Winter Classic at Fenway Park, ending Philadelphia's four-game winning streak.
Another rough outing could land Leighton on the bench with Emery's return looming.
"Ray looks like his explosiveness is back, and I'm looking for good news," general manager Paul Holmgren told the Flyers' official Web site. "He's getting close. I think it would be a stretch to say he'd be ready for the next game, but he's getting close.
"He's healed quicker than any of us anticipated. Because of the position he plays we thought it would be 6 weeks with the injury, but he's coming along very nicely."
Leighton will likely be in net again Wednesday, with the Flyers badly wanting to rebound from Monday's loss climb out of last place in the Atlantic Division. They're one point behind the fourth-place New York Islanders, and the seven goals they allowed to Ottawa were one fewer than the total they'd given up in the previous five games.
"There's nobody happy with the way we played (Monday)," coach Peter Laviolette said. "The previous five games, we're okay with. The way we played and the style we played, and the discipline with which we played them with."
The Flyers and Maple Leafs (15-19-9) split four meetings last season with the home team winning each time.
Toronto, which is last in the Northeast, defeated Florida 3-2 at home Tuesday, scoring three unanswered goals to open a stretch of four games in five nights in strong fashion.
"It's going to be a lot on our bodies," said defenseman Tomas Kaberle, who scored a goal and added an assist against the Panthers. "We've just got to keep it simple."
Some production from Phil Kessel could help the Maple Leafs during this grueling stretch, which includes a visit to division-leading Buffalo on Friday before hosting Pittsburgh the following night.
The right wing has scored once in the last nine games after netting 13 goals in the previous 22 contests. He has just three assists in 10 career meetings with Philadelphia.