Philadelphia Flyers head coach Craig Berube confirmed today that Steve Mason will be back between the pipes and start Game 4 against the New York Rangers tomorrow night at Wells Fargo Center.
It seems like Mason is fully healthy from that mysterious upper-body injury he suffered in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the last weekend of the regular season.
And while backup Ray Emery filled in admirably in Games 1 and 2 and was arguably the Flyers’ best player in those two games leading some to think there was some sort of controversy brewing, Mason is and was always the No. 1 goalie when fully healthy.
And for good reason.
Mason earned the spot with the way he played this season. He finished with a 33-18-7 record, .914 save percentage and 2.50 goals-against average in 61 regular-season appearances while separating himself from Emery. Granted Emery made just 28 appearances in the regular season, but you get the point.
No slight toward Emery as he’s done exactly what’s been asked of him in the backup role this season, but Mason is and always has been the better option, no questions asked.
And that bodes even more true in this series against the Rangers for a couple of reasons.
First, Mason has superior lateral movement.
Look at most of the goals the Rangers have scored so far in the series. Most of the goals have come as a result of Emery being forced to move post-to-post and that isn’t his strong point these days, especially after that near career-ending hip surgery he underwent a few years ago during his first stint as a Flyer.
With all the puck possession the Rangers have had in this series, it has allowed their playmakers to make slick passes and get Emery moving as Flyers defenders have been on their heels.
Mason is much better going post-to-post so he’ll have better opportunities to shut down those kinds of Rangers chances. That’s huge, especially if the Rangers continue to control the puck as much as they have in the series. We haven’t seen any reason so far to think they won’t.
Second, Mason is a much better at handling the puck than Emery is. In fact, Mason is one of the better puck-handling goaltenders in the entire league.
That’s a huge weapon because of how effective the Rangers have forechecked so far in the series. They’ve won the majority of the board battles after dump-ins and chip-ins and those won battles have led to a ton of scoring chances.
Mason has the ability to come out of his net and deftly play the puck to a teammate or out of the zone before the Rangers can start their forecheck and help start the Flyers down the other end of the ice.
Think along the lines of two years ago when the Flyers played the New Jersey Devils in the second round.
Then Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette’s aggressive forechecking system was thwarted before it began because of the way Devils goalie Marty Brodeur played the puck. The Flyers were never able to figure out a real way around that.
Now Mason is not Brodeur when it comes to playing the puck. No goalie is. But that puck-handling presence could toss a major wrench into the way the Rangers attack.
In case you tuned out, Emery was pulled in third period of Game 3 and replaced by Mason, who made three saves in 7:15 of ice time.
But cut Emery some slack. He obviously wasn’t great in Game 3 and most of the goals he let in were softies. Derek Stepan and Dan Carcillo’s goals had no business going in. Dan Girardi’s goal was a rocket from the blue line but Emery still had a shot at it. Only Marty St. Louis’ deflection from the high slot was the one Emery had no shot at.
But Emery was far from the only reason the Flyers lost Game 3. They barely had any sort of puck possession or real, sustained offensive-zone time. They had 31 shots on net but how many times was Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist truly tested?
The Flyers once again couldn’t stay out of the penalty box as they took five penalties and if it wasn’t for two really dumb penalties by Rangers forward Benoit Pouliot that negated Rangers power plays, the first period could have been a whole lot worse.
The Flyers’ power play was also a mess as it went 0-for-5 and generated just three total shots on goal. They also struggled mightily getting shots through to Lundqvist as the Rangers blocked 28 shots but it seemed like they blocked a million of them.
The good news is that there are two days off between Games 3 and 4. That’s two days of adjustments for the Flyers to make before the puck is dropped tomorrow night.
Actually not falling behind by two goals in the first period and jumping out to a lead would be a nice adjustment to start with.