Steve Mason Makes a Statement in First Win with Flyers

Steve Mason Makes a Statement in First Win with Flyers

Tempting as it might be to peek at the standings following
their 4-2 win over Rangers on Tuesday, the reality is the Flyers still have a
lot of ground to make up and precious little time left to do it. Turns out knocking
off the eighth seed with a week and a half to go will only get you so far.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t any positives to take away
from the end result.

New York had come out on top in 10 of the previous 11
meetings, so that needed to be broken up of course. If nothing else the Flyers may
have helped cost the Rags their playoff spot, but that much remains to be seen.

The continued growth of several young players is a good sign
for the future as well. Phantoms call-ups Erik Gustafsson (goals in consecutive
games), Oliver Lauridsen (career-high 19:59 of ice time), and Brandon Manning
(first NHL point) all stepped up for a skeleton-crew defense, while Sean
Couturier’s 22 minutes (most among Flyers forwards) was some of the best all-around
hockey the sophomore has played all season.

Then there is Steve Mason. Already doing his very best to
create a goalie controversy – first with his mere existence, then later by
proclaiming he intends to overtake Ilya Bryzgalov on the depth chart –
Mason hasn’t done anything between the pipes to silence the gossip.

Mason’s 38 saves were a season-high for a Flyers netminder,
eight of those coming against the New York power play, as he was finally able to notch his first win in Orange & Black. You might even go so far as to say he
stole one in his Wells Fargo Center debut, coming up with a number of highlight-reel
stops in what was a tight contest throughout.

In four appearances for the Flyers, Mason is posting a .941
save percentage and 1.82 goals against average. As solid as he’s looked though,
none of the previous three outings announced his arrival as loudly or with as
much force as this.

Message received.

To be fair, Bryzgalov has responded to the possibility of a
competition. In his two games since Mason received his first start, Bryz picked up
the W in Montreal on Monday, and only surrendered a pair of breakaway goals in
a 2-1 loss to Ottawa over the weekend – hardly a final that could be blamed on the goaltender.

Actually, it’s almost funny. As the Flyers’ blue-line depth
becomes more and more depleted due to injury – Bruno Gervais was the latest lost
for the season, while Kent Huskins is among the wounded with a concussion as well
– defensive breakdowns and crippling turnovers are suddenly, rather noticeably reduced.

Not to take anything away from Mason, but I’m not sure how many times we’ve
seen him truly hung out to dry yet.

Regardless, we can’t discount what Mason has done so far,
either. It’s a small sample size, and thus it doesn’t necessarily equate to a
sign of things to come for the 24 year old. The idea that the Flyers will be in
a position to completely evaluate their backup goaltender after having him in house for
three weeks is crazy.

This much can probably be said safely however: Bryzgalov, or
whoever the other goalie happens to be next season, will have a legit
competition on their hands if Mason continues to have anything to say about it.
So far it’s looking like he just might.

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Want to play corner for Jim Schwartz? Must worry about more than deep ball

Want to play corner for Jim Schwartz? Must worry about more than deep ball

The Eagles might not have any top-flight cornerbacks, but they certainly have a lot of guys with some talent.

Many of them are young, and all of them are battling for just several roster spots.

That hodgepodge of talent has made the corner position one of the more intriguing spots at this year's training camp. We're not sure how it'll all shake out, who will be the starters, who will be the depth players.

But one thing's for certain: Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz wants all of them to be aggressive.

"It's going to be fun to watch the corners compete," Schwartz said after practice Tuesday. "We have some guys that can cover. We have some guys that have a great opportunity here. If they'll get up and they'll challenge receivers, like I said before, if you can cover — you can't cover many people if you don't want to challenge guys. That's God's honest truth. I could play the deep ball. I'd get my ass 50 yards deep and you couldn't get one over the top of me, but I couldn't cover anything else.

"There's a fine line in there. And the fine line is you obviously have to play the deep ball in this league, but if that's the only thing you're worried about, you're not going to cover anything else."

Schwartz said he's happy with the blend of veteran and young players on the roster, before rattling off five names: Nolan Carroll, Leodis McKelvin, Ron Brooks, JaCorey Shepherd and rookie Jalen Mills.

The one notable omission from that list of names is second-year player Eric Rowe, who finished last year as a starter, but has been somewhat of a forgotten man this spring and summer. On Monday, head coach Doug Pederson mentioned some "hiccups" Rowe encountered learning the new defensive scheme (see story).

Even with Rowe buried on the depth chart for now, there are still plenty of talented, young corners fighting for jobs.

Carroll, on the other hand, isn't young. He's 29 and a returning starter from last year. Schwartz praised Carroll's smarts and said he's been a resource for younger players. But Carroll is also coming off of a fibula fracture and subsequent surgery. That's why he's one of the select vets that reported to camp early.

"This is important for him now," Schwartz said. "It's a good opportunity for him to come back before the full club gets here, just to sort of test it out and see how he's feeling. You don't want to judge too much. He might need a day here or there. It helps that he's a veteran player."

It seems Carroll, on a one-year deal, has a decent shot of being a starter opposite McKelvin. During the spring, Brooks worked outside in the base package and moved inside to the slot. At times, the rookie Mills also played in the slot.

Schwartz said corners in the slot need a different set of skills than the ones outside. They need to have the "courage" to take on big-bodied running backs and the occasional pulling guard. They also need to cover differently.

"It's very rare that you're getting the same routes," he said. "You're not getting the same routes from the slot as you are from the outside. So there's a different skill set. Some guys can play both, some guys can't. So it's our job to determine over the next six weeks where all the guys fit in that."

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Ichiro in CF, 4 hits away from 3,000

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Ichiro in CF, 4 hits away from 3,000

Ryan Howard is in the Phillies' lineup Tuesday night, batting fourth against Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler. 

It's the second start in three games for Howard, who has actually been productive lately when he's gotten a chance to start. He went 2 for 3 on Saturday and had a homer in three of his previous five starts. Over that span he's gone 6 for 21 with three home runs and five RBIs as the Phillies' starting first baseman.

One of those homers was against Koehler last week at Citizens Bank Park, a two-run shot.

Howard's struggles this season have been well-documented and he's still hitting just .165, but he and Tommy Joseph have produced from a power standpoint. The only team in the majors that has more home runs from its first basemen than the Phillies (24) is the Cubs (26).

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Cody Asche, LF
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Peter Bourjos, RF
9. Jerad Eickhoff, P

And for the Marlins:

1. Ichiro, CF (four hits away from 3,000)
2. Martin Prado, 3B
3. Christian Yelich, LF
4. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
5. Chris Johnson, 1B
6. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
7. Jeff Mathis, C
8. Miguel Rojas, 2B
9. Tom Koehler, P

Adjusting to new home, Ben Simmons plays role model at Sixers Camp

Adjusting to new home, Ben Simmons plays role model at Sixers Camp

Wayne, Pa. -- Three steps. 

That’s all it takes before Ben Simmons is recognized walking through the streets of Philadelphia. 

This year’s No. 1 pick has been in the spotlight long before the Sixers drafted him in June, and now he's experiencing what it's like to be known as an NBA player in his new city. 

“I’ve been enjoying walking around South Street, getting some Ishkabibble's,” Simmons said Tuesday after a special appearance at the Sixers' Camp at Valley Forge Military Academy. 

At 6-foot-10, Simmons towers above most on the court, let alone on the sidewalk. Fans have been eager to welcome him to Philadelphia for a new chapter of the organization after three years of struggle. 

“Positive things,” Simmons said of the comments he receives. “I think a lot of people are excited, so I’ve been looking forward to it.”

Simmons understands the impact a professional athlete can have on young fans, and was excited to be at camp Tuesday.

Growing up in Australia, he never had the opportunity to hear from NBA players when he attended basketball camps. Now that he's in that position, the 20-year-old was glad to provide that memory to the 240 campers. 

“That would mean a lot if I was able to experience that,” Simmons said. 

Simmons demonstrated skill drills, such as passing fundamentals, interacted in a Q+A session and signed autographs for each camper. He also took individual photos for those who traveled internationally, including from Nigeria, Italy and Greece. 

“I’m just like them, but older,” Simmons said. “I’m just trying to be a good role model to them.”

Simmons plans to spend most of the offseason in Philadelphia as he gets settled into the city. He still has to move into his new home, but at least he knows where to get a cheesesteak in the meantime.