Are the Flyers close to being ready for the regular season?
In seven games with the Flyers last season, Steve Mason posted a .944 save percentage and 1.90 goals-against average. (AP)
Ray Emery played a game. Then Steve Mason did. Then Emery played in another.
It’s finally Mason’s turn again tonight against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center. As far as he’s concerned, it’s about time.
Mason -- like Emery -- is content with the Flyers’ strict one-on, one-off preseason rotation, but definitely wants to spend more time in net before the team’s Oct. 2 opener.
“I think the same goes for anybody,” Mason said. “Whether it’s goalie, defense or forwards, you want to play as much as you can to make sure that, come puck drop on opening night, everything feels good.”
So far, Mason says, everything does feel good. While his in-game performances haven’t been perfect, Mason remains encouraged by how things have gone for him so far this September.
“Right now in practice, I feel really, really strong,” he said. “It’s just a matter of carrying that into the games. I’ve only played one and a half games right now, so I’ll utilize my next start and make sure that if I can get into another one as well, that I’ll make the most of it.”
The Flyers’ exhibition games have played out exactly as expected, with the team’s two netminders splitting time as close to 50-50 as is possible. Emery had the last start, a 2-1 loss Tuesday to the Devils at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Flyers’ goalie tandem, of course, has received plenty of attention through training camp. The team’s goalie strategy this season is arguably the NHL’s most radical (and certainly its least expensive), especially considering what their situation in net looked like this time last year.
“People are making such a big deal out of it,” Mason said. “Razor (Emery) and I are both competitive guys, we both want to play, and only one can play at a time. Regardless of who’s in the net, we want to be supportive of one another and for the team.
"If Razor wins his next start, it’s great, it’s good for our team. If I win my next, it’s great. We’re not going to put any negative spin on it. It’s nice having two guys that are hungry to play.”
What has been a challenge for Mason, though, is getting accustomed to the Flyers’ current defense. When he came to the team last spring, its blue line was in bad shape. The Flyers went through 13 D-men in just 48 games in 2013, with Mason never having had a chance to play behind some key members of the defense while learning how to play with some who likely won't suit up in orange and black at all this season.
There's been a definite learning curve for him this preseason.
“You find that in the first couple games of preseason that you’re playing with guys that you’ve never played with before,” he said. “And trying to figure that out -- it’s such a short period of time. … Because when I did get here last year, key guys were out with injuries. So now that they’re all back and healthy, we really have to make sure that we’re taking advantage of this time.”
The Flyers enter this season with no clear-cut No. 1 goalie, the first time in years the position has been free for the taking. For Mason, and for Emery too, that helps feed the already-present competition. But plenty of analysts, still, lack faith in the Flyers' setup.
And like the team's current goalie rotation, that, too, is OK with Mason.
“Everybody’s entitled to their opinion,” he said. “I’m not sure where they’re having Razor and myself ranked, but if it’s a low position, it would be a great feeling when you get to prove them wrong.”