Steve Mason has a 2.49 goals against average and .918 save percentage for the Flyers this season. (USA Today Images)
When the Olympic break began on Feb. 9, Steve Mason was a hot goalie.
The 25-year-old Canadian had won three straight games, four of his last five, had two shutouts and came within 90 seconds of a third.
Mason was in the kind of groove every goalie wants with the stretch run to the playoffs around the bend.
That 23-game run begins Thursday for the Flyers when San Jose visits town.
“It’s great to have time off to relax and not have any stress, but at the end of the day, this is the time we look for,” said Mason, who spent some time in the Bahamas with nine childhood buddies during the break.
“We look forward to it each and every day. It’s nice to get away from the pressures the NHL season brings, refresh and get ready for this last stretch.”
Mason spent some on-ice practice time last week with goalie coach Jeff Reese trying to fine tune some aspects of his game.
“We are doing a lot of technical [things] right now,” Reese said. “Things we really haven’t had a chance to do a lot of because the schedule has been so condensed. It’s nice to get out early and do some things we have not had a chance to do.”
Interestingly, one of the things they did was analyze some video of U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick (L.A. Kings) and Finnish goalie Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins).
What they looked at was how both goalies play the puck when it’s behind the net, where so many NHL teams now are trying to set up plays.
“Tuukka Rask and Jonathan Quick ... when pucks are behind the net and they have players in front, they tend to be on the knees, which is a safe play that can take away the lower part of the net on quick jam plays,” Mason said.
“Those are some of the best goaltenders in the league. Any time you can learn something from your peers, it is something you can take advantage of.”
Mason, who goes into the Sharks encounter with a 2.49 goals against average and .918 save percentage, said he doesn’t divide the stretch run into any specific segment of games.
Fourteen of those games, incidentally, are on home ice.
“You can make the playoffs or miss by a hair,” Mason said. “The only way to not get overrun by this is to take it day by day and game by game and not look too far ahead. It’s going to be extremely busy at the end of the season for us. We have to take it in stride.
“On a personal note, just to pick up where the game left off at the break. If everything goes according to plan, we’ll be in the playoffs.
“We’re extremely comfortable with the team we have. If we’re able to make it, we’ll make some noise and there’s a lot of work to be done in order to get there. Our fate is in our own hands.”
Most coaches will tell you that an 18-day layoff for a hot goalie is lot more destructive to their game than a forward who was on a goal-scoring spree.
“When players get back into regular season, they have their linemates who can help pick them up,” Mason said. “But when a goaltender is having an off night, it’s pretty obvious.
“Pucks are going in. For myself, make sure when Thursday night rolls around I am confident in my own game. Utilize this week to my best of my abilities.”
Reese isn’t calling it a “cram” session like final exams, but last week and this week will see a decent amount of classroom work off the ice.
“Jeff has some things he wants me to keep working on,” Mason said. “We had a full week of practice to do that. We have not been strapped for time to get that work done.
“There is a little sense of urgency to it. Come Thursday, we’re not taking baby steps, we’re ready right off the first puck drop and ready to go.”
Reese said the biggest thing for Mason and his backup, Ray Emery, was mental relaxation before the pressure of the stretch run.
“It’s not like they can’t get it back,” Reese said. “They are both well-rested. Mentally, it’s important that they got away from it a little bit.
“Both are looking forward to getting back into it. It’s going to be important for them to play well down the stretch and help get us in.”