Flyers back Mason in win with big third period


Flyers back Mason in win with big third period


Marvelous. Spectacular. Inspiring.

On so many given nights this season, any one of those words could describe the efforts of Flyers goalie Steve Mason, who deserves to have far more wins right now than the six for which he is credited.

Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators, Mason worked his magic again during a 5-2 victory (see Instant Replay). He had a number of quality saves through the first 40 minutes that gave his team a chance. He even put them in position to win.

“He’s been bailing us out a lot,” said defenseman Nick Grossmann, who assisted Mason with two saves with his feet on Kyle Turris in the third period (see story).

“I said it before, he has been our best player the whole year. It’s good to have a guy like that and know he is there if stuff breaks down. Sometimes it just feels nice to return the favor.

“You try to do whatever you can to help him and that’s how it has to work. We need him to be our best player pushing forward here to try to be successful -- that’s what we need.”

The Flyers turned a 2-2 tie in the third period into a win with a dominating performance in the last stanza, something that Mason hasn’t had on his side much of the year.

“Earlier in the season, guys were really struggling to find their games,” Mason said. “You can see it now that guys are starting to play with a lot more confidence, making real nice passes that normally they weren’t making early on in the year.

“So with them coming around with their game and the confidence building, you’re going to see a much tighter hockey game. With us coming back with the two goals in the third period ... that’s what the team is known for in the past -- coming back and having big goals and big opportunities. It’s nice to see and let’s just hope that it keeps continuing.”

Mason even had a penalty shot save on Turris, too, after the Grossmann save.

The victory moved the Flyers within two points of a playoff spot. It also lifted them above .500 (8-7-2) under coach Craig Berube.

Pretty good way to begin a three-game homestand at Wells Fargo Center, where the Flyers are now 4-7 this season.

“It’s huge,” Mason said. “We haven’t been a good hockey club at home. We’ve had leads going into the thirds, let them go and lost a lot of valuable points, so to continue this stronger play that we have on the road and bringing it home for the first of a three-game home stanza is nice to see.”

Berube was impressed with the third period, which began with his team leading, 2-1. Unlike the shootout loss in Winnipeg in which the Flyers failed to close out a win, Berube's club did the opposite on Tuesday.

“It was a very good response by our team,” Berube said. “I thought the whole third period we played to win that game.

“It's encouraging, good to see. Maybe we got a break on [Grossmann’s save]. I don't now. I haven't looked at it yet.”

Matt Read showing Flyers he’s done his homework

Matt Read showing Flyers he’s done his homework

To Matt Read’s credit, his hockey education never stopped.

Through a second straight subpar season with a murky summer ahead, Read realized he had to change, even on the cusp of his 30th birthday.

It was in late April when the much-maligned winger met with head coach Dave Hakstol and turned in his homework, almost like a student-teacher conference to address troubled grades.

Read vowed he had learned.

Now, nearly six months later, he’s off to the best start of his six-year career.

“He has always been a hard-working guy,” Hakstol said Thursday. “He is a guy that is doing things with a lot of confidence. For me, it started with Reader back in late August. He was in here working early, getting ready, getting prepared and he has carried that through everything he has done so far this year.”

What he has done is rip off a team-high four goals in four games, attacking the net at will and with an undeniable bravado. Really, it’s a Matt Read we haven’t seen before. On Thursday night in the Flyers’ 3-2 home-opening loss, he took a bouncing puck at the blue line, careened towards the net on a sharp, decisive angle and buried his fourth goal with skilled stick work.

“For myself, I’m just trying to play with speed and get to the net,” he said. “I had all the speed and kind of beat the goalie to the back post.”

Last season, the bottom-six forward needed 26 games to score four goals. The year prior, it took 54 games.

So Read studied. What exactly did he grasp?

“Even my linemates, we talk about that if we’re in the offensive zone, we’ve got to get somebody in the blue paint there,” Read said Thursday. “I don’t know the stat, but I think it’s near 90 percent of all goals are within 10 feet of the net. So if you want to score goals, you’ve got to get in that area.”

This offseason, Read looked in the mirror and, with some self-evaluation, knew what had to be done.

“I think that’s something the last two years, I kind of faded away from, I was a perimeter player,” he said. “It’s easy to be a perimeter player if you’re going to be making plays and stuff like that. But if you want to score goals, you’ve got to get into those tough areas, be nasty around the net and battle for loose pucks.”

A new outlook has brought renewed confidence. It’s fair to question whether over the last two seasons if Read ever makes the play he made Thursday. He also knows it’s early and more can be accomplished.

“I feel good out there right now,” Read said. “Hopefully I continue to have good health, keep working out and being strong on my feet. A lot of it has to do with confidence. If you’re shy or not having the confidence, you probably won’t go to that far post.

“I know for myself in the last two years, I know I’ve got to be better. Even going into last year, I knew I had to be better and I did as much I could in the offseason to have a good season and I guess it didn’t go my way, or over the course of the season, it took its toll.”

Read amassed 11 goals and 15 assists in 79 games. The 26 points were a personal low for a full season. Those figures didn’t sit well with Read and general manager Ron Hextall noticed.

“You know what, Reader came in early before camp, he's absolutely worked his tail off,” Hextall said Wednesday. “He understood that he hadn't been as good a player as he should have been last year. He understood it, he took it upon himself, put in a great summer, came in early, got himself in great shape, and he's a hungry hockey player right now and he's been back to where he was.”

When signed by the Flyers in 2011 out of Bemidji State University, it was uncertain where Read projected. Over the past two seasons, he’s fallen to a fourth-line role and was even healthy-scratched last season. More buzz surrounding his status within the organization heated up entering training camp as the Flyers made additions and Travis Konecny blossomed.

Thus far, however, Read has won himself a promotion to the third line because of his early success. He played only 16 power-play seconds Thursday, but if goals keep coming and the Flyers produce more 1-for-7 results on the man advantage, maybe Hakstol increases the 30-year-old’s minutes there, as well.

“When Matt Read is playing like he can play,” Hextall said, “he's a helluva player.”

Not a bad student, too.

Travis Konecny getting rookie introduction to physicality of NHL game

Travis Konecny getting rookie introduction to physicality of NHL game

VOORHEES, N.J. – There are some things in the NHL that are expected to happen on the ice with rookie players.

They will be challenged. They will be tested. And they will be hit – clean or otherwise.

Four games into Travis Konecny’s career, teams are taking target practice on the Flyers’ smallest player. The London, Ont. forward is listed at 5-foot-10 but 5-9 or less is closer to the truth.

On Thursday night, Josh Manson’s elbow made contact with the back of Konecny’s head during the opening minutes of a 3-2 Flyers loss to Anaheim. Manson served a minor for elbowing.

Konency admitted on Friday afternoon that he placed himself in a bad situation by “ducking” to avoid Mason’s check on the boards.

“That was my fault,” Konecny said. “I tried to duck under the hit and make room for myself. He came through and put a check on me and I got underneath him.”

Konecny doesn’t feel teams are targeting him. At the same time, he doesn’t deny he is taking some hard licks out there. He has four assists, tied for the rookie lead in the NHL.

“It’s part of the game,” he said. “Part of being a young guy, too. Being in the league, I am trying to make space for myself and hit guys.

“Obviously, some guys who have been in the league 10 years, don’t like guys doing that. So I expect it. Doesn’t bother me.”

His linemate, Jakub Voracek, said all of this has to be expected.

“I don’t think he is the only one in the league who is getting this kind of treatment,” Voracek said. “He is a good player. He is small and shifty. They try to get under his skin. ... That’s the way it always works.

“You are a new guy, a young guy, especially if you have a good start like he did. You’re gonna get that treatment. He’s a big fellow and he can handle it. ... Sometimes you can be small, but if you can handle things, better to handle it when you are 5-11 than 6-4 and being a p---y.”

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol doesn’t feel Konecny is being targeted.

“I haven’t seen anything out of bounds,” he said.

With Radko Gudas serving a six-game suspension for a head shot during preseason, the Flyers don’t have a big, punishing player that opponents fear on the ice to balance things out on the scoresheet.

Would Gudas’ presence alleviate the questionable hits on Konecny?

“No, I haven’t seen any difference there,” Hakstol replied. “A night like last night, I mentioned after the game, that’s a big, heavy team we’re playing … you certainly miss a big, heavy body like Gudy on the back end that just naturally matches that physicality.”

Gap coverage
The Flyers didn’t show any lineup changes during Friday’s practice in preparation for Saturday’s game against Carolina.

One element they worked on and saw video was gap coverage between their forwards and defense. It burned them against the Ducks and even Chicago.

“That’s a fair assessment,” Hakstol said. “I don’t think we were very good in that area [against Anaheim] and had been extremely good in that area during the first, couple games of the year. It’s an area we have to do a little better job at.”

The challenge there is that Carolina has some speed and the Canes will attempt to exploit holes in the Flyers’ gap coverage, especially off transition.