Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ray Emery skating the length of the ice to attack Washington Capitals netminder Bradon Holtby during a line brawl in a recent game between the two teams created a stir within the hockey world.
Emery was widely condemned for provoking a fight with a clearly reluctant Holtby, but received no supplemental discipline for his actions. Under NHL rules there’s nothing to prevent a goaltender from leaving his crease to partake in a fight at the other end of the rink.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan voiced their disapproval of Emery’s actions, leading to speculation the league could implement a new rule in which a goalie leaving the defensive zone to join in a fight could face suspension.
Emery wasn’t without his supporters. Though the fight didn’t change the game’s outcome (a lopsided 7-0 win for the Capitals), he was named the game’s third star. It’s been suggested Emery was simply doing his part as a good teammate in a brawl involving every player on the ice. His defenders believe his actions provided the struggling Flyers with a much-needed spark which had been lacking since the start of the season.
It’s one thing if Emery was attacked by another player around his net, or jumping in to save a teammate from a beating, or if Holtby was the aggressor.
That’s not what happened. Emery skated the length of the ice and tried to provoke Holtby into fighting. When the Capitals goalie expressed his unwillingness, Emery essentially told him to defend himself and started swinging.
This wasn’t Emery’s first dance in a line brawl, tangling with Martin Biron during a scrap several years ago against the Buffalo Sabres, then exchanging punches with Sabres tough guy Andrew Peters. The difference then was Biron and Peters were willing participants.
To be fair, Emery doesn’t have a reputation for instigating fights. His only NHL suspension was three games for striking former Montreal Canadiens forward Maxim Lapierre in the face with his stick. Indeed, since his early NHL seasons with the Ottawa Senators, Emery’s matured as a player and a person.
While there’s nothing in the rule book preventing Emery from challenging Holtby to a fight, he had no reason to push the issue when it was obvious the Capitals netminder wanted no part of it. Holtby did nothing to provoke Emery. He didn’t attack one of Emery’s teammates, nor was he fighting one of them.
Suggesting Emery gained respect from his teammates and Flyers fans for pummeling Holtby is nonsense. He has nine NHL seasons under his belt, which includes a season with the Flyers. He had no reason to prove himself in such a manner.
It’s been argued Emery and the Flyers were “sending a message”, that they were sick and tired of their poor start and simply venting their frustrations.
Did it change the outcome of the game? No. Are rival clubs now fearful of the Flyers? No. This isn’t the era of the Broad Street Bullies, where the Flyers won two championships and dominated the league with equal parts menace and talent.
It was pointless for Emery to attack Holtby. It served no purpose. His actions were indefensible.
If the NHL has its way, Emery– or any other goalie – won’t get away with leaving their defensive zone to partake in another line brawl.