Mason's goal: Become Flyers' starting goalie

Mason's goal: Become Flyers' starting goalie
April 14, 2013, 3:00 pm
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MONTREAL – Steve Mason isn’t getting the wins, but the Flyers’ new goaltender is doing practically everything else right.

That’s a relief – and not just because he wants to make a good early impression. It’s because Mason wants to be the Flyers’ starting goalie, and he wants it soon.

“That's definitely my goal,” Mason said after the Flyers’ 1-0 loss in Buffalo. “No goaltender should be satisfied being a No. 2 in this league, and I most certainly am not. It's my goal for the rest of the season to go into the summer time and towards the start of next year is become a No. 1 goaltender again.”

Mason has been in net for the Flyers three times now – two full games and the third period of the team’s April 6 loss to the Winnipeg Jets – and has yet to take part in a victory.

But his early numbers tell the story of a goaltender already benefiting from a change of scenery: Mason’s goals-against average with his new team is 1.74 and his save percentage is .934.

Both figures are much improved from the season stats he brought with him to Philadelphia at the April 3 trade deadline: 2.95 GAA, .899 save percentage.

“There's still a learning curve, obviously,” Mason said. “But there's things that I still want to improve upon. But the start so far, with the exception of not getting the wins, I've been comfortable with. I'm really enjoying it here. The guys are great. I'm just really looking forward to being here into next season.”

Of course, Mason’s two complete games weren’t exactly against the stiffest competition. He allowed three goals to the New York Islanders in a 4-1 Flyers loss and gave up the sole goal of Saturday’s loss to the Buffalo Sabres.

It’s worth noting, though, that each of the teams he’s faced is in the playoff hunt.

“Both games he played – I was watched from upstairs and from the ice – and I really like his work,” Danny Briere said. “He moves really well. Once again he gave us a chance to win [in Buffalo]. There was an unfortunate bounce on him, but in the second period I think we gave up three or four 2-on-1s. That's trouble usually, and he was able to keep them all out.”

The Flyers re-signed Mason last week to a one-year, $1.5 million deal that basically amounts to an audition. He’s proven in the past that he’s capable of greatness, having won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2008-09 as a 20-year-old. But his play has declined since then, which explains why the Flyers were able to sign him to a deal worth half the value annually as his previous contract.

Mason wasn’t brought into Philadelphia to replace starting goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov – at least not immediately. But general manager Paul Holmgren has, in a way, left the door open for it. Holmgren has said only that the Flyers see Mason as “one of [their] two goalies.”

Mason lost the starting job in Columbus, coincidentally enough, to ex-Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. He has had only one season with a winning record since his Calder Trophy campaign.

But, he said, if he gets his way, his fortune will turn around – and fast.

“I'm 24 years old,” Mason said. “I realize there's a lot of time ahead, but I won't be happy until I get back to a level I'm comfortable playing at.”

Playing for pride
At 12th place in the Eastern Conference, nine points out of playoff contention and with seven games left in their season, the Flyers understand that making the postseason isn’t a reality in 2013.

But that doesn’t mean they’re ready to throw any games or play with any less intensity the rest of the way.

“We're all professional. We all want to win,” Briere said. “We all want to leave it out there. At this point, obviously we'd prefer playing for a better position in the playoffs. But even though that's now out of the way, we still want to be the best we can be.”

The Flyers will face a hungry Canadiens team Monday night, which clinched the playoffs Friday but was embarrassed by their rivals to the west, the Maple Leafs, Saturday night. The Habs fell to the Leafs in Toronto, 5-1.

It’s been a frustrating season for the Flyers, who have struggled to maintain any sort of consistency, have been plagued by bad luck and awkward bounces, and simply haven’t been able to find the back of their opponents’ nets.

They do, however, know exactly what they need to do come Monday at the Bell Centre.

“We have to go and play and score goals and win hockey games,” Scott Hartnell said.

Since their five-goal effort in Toronto April 4, the Flyers are averaging less than one goal per game.

They scored just once against the Jets (April 6), the Islanders (April 9) and the Senators (April 11), and were shut out entirely Saturday by the Sabres.

As they’ve fallen further and further in the standings, their offensive struggles have taken an emotional toll.

“It’s frustrating for everybody,” Hartnell said. “We’re not scoring goals, and you need goals to win hockey games. It’s frustrating. I don’t know what to say. It’s not like we’re not trying. I don’t know what it is.”