Flyers' Mason raises game in win over Panthers

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Flyers' Mason raises game in win over Panthers

As with anything worthwhile, new Flyers coach Craig Berube’s stronger team defense won’t happen overnight.

That’s a big part of why the Florida Panthers led 6-1 in shots after the first 3:30 on Tuesday. And 25-17 after 40 minutes. And 33-21 after 50 minutes.

Goalie Steve Mason, however, is the reason the Flyers won, 2-1 (see game recap).

“Our goalie played unbelievable for us tonight,” Scott Hartnell said. “He definitely won us the game, and that’s what you need in a goaltender -- to win you some games sometimes.”

Mason, making his second consecutive start of the season and third overall, kept his team alive in what was only the second game at the Wells Fargo Center of this young season. While the Flyers led 2-0 through almost all of the second period, that score is somewhat deceptive.

The Flyers once again committed some of the same sins that led to Peter Laviolette’s firing. They were sloppy in their own zone and silent through their five power-play chances. The two early goals they did score were thanks largely to a wildly out-of-position and injured Panthers goalie Tim Thomas.

Mason, though, was stellar and consistent throughout.

Berube spouted compliments about Mason’s game as if he were listing the qualifications of a Vezina winner.

“Composure in net,” Berube said. “He looked real solid. Right on top of things. Saw all the pucks. Just solid. Just looked big in net.”

In fact, the young Flyers’ goaltender has looked sharp through each of his three starts. On Tuesday, though, he brought it to another level, and was responsible for most -- if not all -- of the Flyers’ highlight reel.

With just about a minute left to play in the first, Mason stoned Panthers center Aleksander Barkov with an acrobatic move that required him to basically do a split in mid-air.

Early in the second, Mason made up for a Kimmo Timonen fumble that led to a shorthanded breakaway attempt by Shawn Matthias, turning away the centerman.

He remained calm in the third period when a Jay Rosehill penalty resulted in four minutes of shorthanded play for the defense in front of him, which hadn’t yet had a full practice to work on Berube’s new system.

“Part of the position is coming up big at key opportunities,” Mason said. “At the end of the first period, there were a couple saves that needed to be made in order to preserve the lead, and moving forward it was something to build off. Feeling good about that right now.”

The long goal Mason did give up came with just six seconds left in the second period, the kind of marker than can sway a game’s momentum. Instead, when he returned for the final stanza, Mason never lost a step.

It was exactly what the Flyers needed in order to escape Tuesday night with their first win of the season -- as captain Claude Giroux noted, the game itself was far from a pretty one.

In total, he stopped 33 Panthers shots.

“He played great,” Braydon Coburn said. “We needed him to play really good. He definitely stood on his head for us.”

“It could have been a very different hockey game if he didn’t have the game that he had,” Brayden Schenn added.

At his introductory press conference, Berube was asked how he’d prefer to handle the Flyers’ goalie situation -- whether he likes the idea of a tandem or he’d rather have a clear No. 1.

“I think that’ll work itself out,” he said at the time, coyly. He repeated the sentiment once again after Tuesday’s win: "That will play itself out."

As for Mason, he was honored to receive the start in Berube’s coaching debut, especially since it was the first time either he or Ray Emery had played back-to-back games since the regular season kicked off. Laviolette had remained true to the every-other-game goalie system.

“Regardless of what game it is, if you’re going in there that means the coach has confidence in you,” Mason said. “To get the back-to-back starts and be able to finally get the first one out of the way is definitely nice. But at the same time, it’s just one game. We have a whole schedule. It’s something to build off of, but it’s a small thing in the big picture right now.”

Based on how Tuesday worked itself out, however, it should be difficult for Berube not to award the start in Friday’s game against the Phoenix Coyotes to Mason.

It’s far from on Mason’s mind, however. To him and to Emery, the new coach doesn’t reawaken any kind of debate on starting goaltenders.

“That’s up to Chief to decide who goes in,” he said. “I’ll never go and ask him if I’m playing. I’ll wait to hear from him.”

Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier know Flyers by now, ready for anything at NHL draft

Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier know Flyers by now, ready for anything at NHL draft

CHICAGO — Nico Hischier was nervous, swaying a bit as he spoke to the media, admitting he had some jitters as this NHL draft approaches on Friday.

About 60 feet away, Nolan Patrick leaned on a stick and said not only was he not nervous, he also really couldn't care less whether he's picked first overall Friday by New Jersey or second by the Flyers because his goal is just to get into the NHL.

"Doesn't matter to me," Patrick said Thursday. "A lot of guys will tell you what you want to hear. That they don't care, but deep down, they do.

"I don't care. It's not going to change my chances in the NHL if I go No. 1 or 4. I'm gonna take it. Where I go is not gonna help me any more. At the end of the day, I've got to work hard."

That said, Hischier is poised to become the highest-drafted Swiss player ever and if he went first overall …

"I would make history and that would make me proud," Hischier beamed. "Really happy, for sure."

Both players participated in Thursday's ball-hockey clinic in a parking lot just across the street from United Center where one of them will go to the Devils and one to the Flyers on Friday night.

"Yeah, I little bit nervous," Hischier admitted. "It's not up to me. I just have to enjoy it."

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall took both players out to dinner separately in Buffalo, New York, earlier this month at the NHL Scouting Combine to try and get a peek behind their personalities (see story).

"We talked about Philadelphia, talked about the club, the goals, what's important for them," Hischier said. "It was good dinner and went well."

Patrick, who is from Winnipeg, Manitoba, said he was impressed with the steakhouse and said what he liked best about the meal was getting into arguments with fellow Manitoban, Hextall, who is from Brandon.

"He's a really nice guy," Patrick said. "It was a fancy steakhouse. I'll take those dinners any day. He knows what he is doing in Philly. If I were lucky enough to go there, I'd be happy.

"I know all about him. He's a Brandon Wheat King. Us Manitobans always going at each other. We got into a few arguments about some of his guys. Manitoba is the best place in the world."

Right now, for a couple hundred hockey players, Chicago is the best place in the world because this is the NHL draft and what happens Friday and Saturday will impact their lives forever.

Which is why Hischier brought his older brother, Luca, here. He plays for Bern in Switzerland where Hischier also was before transferring to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to play for Halifax this past season.

"My idol is my brother," Nico said. "He is playing pro in Bern. We have a good relationship. I'm happy he is here because I can ask him everything, on and off the ice."

Both players have some Flyers familiarity.

Hischier skated with Mark Streit last summer but hasn't talked to him since.

"Last summer, I skated with Streit, [Roman] Josi, [Shea] Weber and those guys," Hischier said. "It was fun."

Patrick played with Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov two years ago in Brandon.

"Talked to Provy two weeks ago," Patrick said. "I was talking to Brayden Schenn the last couple days. Provy works out 10 hours a day."

A few weeks from now, one of these guys will be at the Flyers' developmental camp working out in Skate Zone.

"It's not up to me," Hischier said. "I don't focus on expectations, I don't focus on teams. Everything can happen.

"I'm going to be open for everything and happy, for sure. If it's No. 2 or 3, I'm gonna be happy anyway."

Flyers begin 2017-18 season out West, face Vegas for 1st time in February

Flyers begin 2017-18 season out West, face Vegas for 1st time in February

For the second straight year, the Flyers are beginning the season out West.

The NHL on Thursday released its 2017-18 schedule and as reported Wednesday, the Flyers open the season in San Jose on Oct. 4 as part of a four-game road trip that includes games in Los Angeles, Anaheim and concludes in Nashville on Oct. 10.

They'll return home on Oct. 14 for their home opener against the Washington Capitals that kickstarts a five-game homestand (see story). The Flyers will host the Islanders on Black Friday.

Flyers fans will have to wait a while for their first taste of the Vegas Golden Knights. The Flyers will face the Golden Knights for the first time on Feb. 11 in Vegas.

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and the Golden Knights come to Philadelphia on March 12.

The Flyers will end the season at home against the New York Rangers.

You can see the Flyers' full schedule here (and buy tickets here).