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.”

Flyers-Blackhawks 5 things: Matinee showdown with NHL leader

Flyers-Blackhawks 5 things: Matinee showdown with NHL leader

Flyers (12-10-3) vs. Blackhawks (16-6-3)
1 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com

Behind captain Claude Giroux's two goals and overtime heroics Thursday, the Flyers enter Saturday's matinee with the Chicago Blackhawks on their longest win streak of the season.

That and more as we get ready for the afternoon showdown at the Wells Fargo Center.

1. Three's company
With their 3-2 OT win over the Senators, the Flyers have now won three (3!) games in a row for the second time this season, a sign the ship might be turning in the right direction.

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol applauded his team's 61-minute effort afterward. Comparing it to Tuesday's win over Boston in which Steve Mason single-handedly stole two points from the Bruins, Hakstol said the Ottawa game was a "real, good, consistent effort" throughout the lineup, which the Flyers will have to mimic again Saturday in order to beat Chicago.

On Friday, Hakstol rewarded the Flyers with an optional practice. Brandon Manning, who has missed the last two games because of a possible concussion, returned to practice Friday and was cleared to play. If Manning returns Saturday, Andrew MacDonald seems like the likely candidate to come out.

Manning's return would be welcomed for the Flyers. The 26-year-old has been one of the team's most consistent players. He's been aggressive, both offensively and defensively, and his play is not deserving of a healthy scratch. But with no morning skate and limited player availability Friday, Manning's status for the Blackhawks' game remains unknown.

2. Power hour
For the Flyers to extend their winning streak to a season-high four games Saturday, they will have to do so not only with a sound, defensive game but also on special teams.

If there is one area Chicago has struggled this season, it has been the penalty kill. At 70.1 percent, the Blackhawks have the league's worst PK unit, and have a middle-of-the-road power play despite all of their offensive firepower.

The Flyers, on the other hand, have the league's third-best power play at 23.6 percent, and their penalty-kill units have improved lately, getting up to 80 percent. The Flyers have two PP goals in their last 19 opportunities.

Still, Chicago's power play is dangerous despite its recent struggles. The Blackhawks have just one power-play goal since Nov. 19, and went 0 for 4 on Thursday against the Devils.

3. Corey's crease
The Blackhawks also enter Saturday hot, winning three of their last four games; however, they have gone to overtime in their last three games. Chicago has had issues with slow starts in games recently, and the Devils' game Thursday was another example of that.

New Jersey took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, but easily could have had a larger lead had it not been for Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, who's been excellent this season. Crawford faced 13 shots in the opening period Thursday and kept the 'Hawks in the game, as he has all season long. The Blackhawks sit atop the NHL with 35 points, and Crawford is a major reason for that.

Crawford has a 2.27 goals-against average and .927 save percentage this season. He's pitched two shutouts and has faced 33 or more shots in his last four games. Scoring on Crawford has not been easy for opponents this season, but the Flyers do average 3.1 goals, third in the NHL.

UPDATE (11:20 a.m.): Crawford is sick and will not be available to start or back up today against the Flyers. Scott Darling will start for Chicago.

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Let's stick with Giroux. The 28-year-old snapped a nine-game goal drought Tuesday with power-play goal, and then added two more Thursday — one at 5-on-5 and one in the 3-on-3 overtime. Giroux's play at even strength has been scrutinized, but his point production remains potent. Giroux has a four-game point streak — three goals, two assists — and has 22 points in 25 games this season. He also got engaged Thursday in Ottawa.

Blackhawks: So many players to watch, but let's highlight the ageless Marian Hossa. The 37-year-old continues to be an effective player even as he grows older. Now in his 18th NHL season, Hossa leads Chicago with 12 goals, including the game-winner in overtime against New Jersey Thursday. Hossa tallied his 500th career goal against the Flyers back on Oct. 18, and has 15 goals in 48 career games against the orange and black. He still has it.

5. This and that
• Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is out for Saturday's game because of an upper-body injury, per CSN Chicago's Tracey Myers. Toews hasn't played since Nov. 23.

• Mason, Saturday's projected starter, is 7-12-3 with a 3.42 GAA and .890 save percentage in 23 career games against the Blackhawks. After a disaster start to the season, Mason has a 2.22 GAA and .912 save percentage over his last nine games.

• Chicago has five players with seven or more goals, and five players with double-digit assists.

Flyers' trip to Ottawa brings back 'fond memories' for Travis Konecny

Flyers' trip to Ottawa brings back 'fond memories' for Travis Konecny

OTTAWA, Ontario — Exactly one year ago, Dec. 1, 2015, Travis Konecny was a member of the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s.

He had just learned that he had been invited to the Team Canada selection camp for the World Junior Hockey Championship and he was at the Canadian Tire Centre spending time with future Flyers teammates during the morning skate as they prepared for a game that night against the Ottawa Senators.

Fast forward one year to today, Dec. 1, 2016, and Konecny is back at the CTC, this time to face the Senators alongside his current Flyers teammates as a key part of the team’s offense.

Quite a step forward in just one calendar year for a kid not named Crosby or McDavid.

“It’s crazy how fast it happened and I’m definitely humbled I was given the opportunity. They believed enough in me to make the jump this year and it definitely hits me every day that I get the opportunity to play in the NHL,” said Konecny, who has scored four times and added nine assists through the first 25 games of his NHL career. He has also added a team-leading 33 penalty minutes and that goes a long way in explaining the type of game he plays.

“I don’t know what happened. I’ve never been like that before," Konecny said before the Flyers' 3-2 overtime win Thursday (see game story). "When you’re playing in the NHL, some guys will run over you all game if they can so I think part of these penalties I’m taking is me just having to step up and I’m just setting an example of sticking up for my teammates."

It wasn’t until his second game in the league that he took his first penalty, but he was on the score sheet before that having collected two assists in his debut Oct. 14 in a 4-2 win over the Kings in Los Angeles.

His first goal came Oct. 25 in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres. The key for his success in making the jump from junior to the NHL is simple.

“Just keeping things simple," he said. "Learning in the NHL is about reading off mistakes. You can’t always make a play, you have to be smart and make sure you’re doing what’s right for the team and I think just keeping my game simple is what got me here." 

There is one main difference between the two levels, Konecny added.

“The speed, and I don’t necessarily mean just skating," he said. "Thinking wise and how fast plays happen. Guys like [Senators defenseman Erik] Karlsson, he’s thinking so fast and he knows his play two or three steps before the next guy does, so you just have to try and outthink guys and to me that’s been the biggest jump.”

Konecny is not foreign to the Senators’ home ice surface. He spent part of his time in junior playing there while the 67’s home arena was being renovated.

He had to leave several passes for friends and family for the game Tuesday night, his first as a pro in the city that was dazzled by his play in junior for 2½ seasons.

“It was a lot of fun and it brought back a lot of memories," Konecny said after going scoreless in 14:13 of ice time. "We didn’t play in front of as many fans as we did tonight but definitely a lot of games played here and a lot of fond memories.

“Even flying in [Wednesday] was something special and driving around the city looking at the roots where I was for three years.”