Happy with rotation, Mason eager for next start

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Happy with rotation, Mason eager for next start

Ray Emery played a game. Then Steve Mason did. Then Emery played in another.

It’s finally Mason’s turn again tonight against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center. As far as he’s concerned, it’s about time.

Mason -- like Emery -- is content with the Flyers’ strict one-on, one-off preseason rotation, but definitely wants to spend more time in net before the team’s Oct. 2 opener.

“I think the same goes for anybody,” Mason said. “Whether it’s goalie, defense or forwards, you want to play as much as you can to make sure that, come puck drop on opening night, everything feels good.”

So far, Mason says, everything does feel good. While his in-game performances haven’t been perfect, Mason remains encouraged by how things have gone for him so far this September.

“Right now in practice, I feel really, really strong,” he said. “It’s just a matter of carrying that into the games. I’ve only played one and a half games right now, so I’ll utilize my next start and make sure that if I can get into another one as well, that I’ll make the most of it.”

The Flyers’ exhibition games have played out exactly as expected, with the team’s two netminders splitting time as close to 50-50 as is possible. Emery had the last start, a 2-1 loss Tuesday to the Devils at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Flyers’ goalie tandem, of course, has received plenty of attention through training camp. The team’s goalie strategy this season is arguably the NHL’s most radical (and certainly its least expensive), especially considering what their situation in net looked like this time last year.

“People are making such a big deal out of it,” Mason said. “Razor (Emery) and I are both competitive guys, we both want to play, and only one can play at a time. Regardless of who’s in the net, we want to be supportive of one another and for the team.

"If Razor wins his next start, it’s great, it’s good for our team. If I win my next, it’s great. We’re not going to put any negative spin on it. It’s nice having two guys that are hungry to play.”

What has been a challenge for Mason, though, is getting accustomed to the Flyers’ current defense. When he came to the team last spring, its blue line was in bad shape. The Flyers went through 13 D-men in just 48 games in 2013, with Mason never having had a chance to play behind some key members of the defense while learning how to play with some who likely won't suit up in orange and black at all this season.

There's been a definite learning curve for him this preseason.

“You find that in the first couple games of preseason that you’re playing with guys that you’ve never played with before,” he said. “And trying to figure that out -- it’s such a short period of time. … Because when I did get here last year, key guys were out with injuries. So now that they’re all back and healthy, we really have to make sure that we’re taking advantage of this time.”

The Flyers enter this season with no clear-cut No. 1 goalie, the first time in years the position has been free for the taking. For Mason, and for Emery too, that helps feed the already-present competition. But plenty of analysts, still, lack faith in the Flyers' setup.

And like the team's current goalie rotation, that, too, is OK with Mason.

“Everybody’s entitled to their opinion,” he said. “I’m not sure where they’re having Razor and myself ranked, but if it’s a low position, it would be a great feeling when you get to prove them wrong.”

Steve Mason rediscovers himself in New York just before Flyers return

Steve Mason rediscovers himself in New York just before Flyers return

It had been a while since Steve Mason saw himself.

Walking into the Barclays Center on Sunday, the Flyers’ goalie was 0-6-2 with a 4.03 goals-against average and .844 save percentage over his last 10 appearances (see more recent Flyers numbers and stats).

A far cry from how Mason truly sees himself in net.

But heading into Wednesday’s rivalry clash with the Rangers, Mason will have something to build on, something he couldn’t say since Dec. 21 — the last time he had earned a victory. He’s fresh off his first win in over a month, a gigantic one for Mason considering all the key moments on Sunday the Flyers hope invigorate his confidence.

Without numerous clutch stops from their goalie, the Flyers don’t come back from two goals down to beat the Islanders, 3-2, in overtime. Mason made four saves  — three on four-time All-Star John Tavares — in just over a minute of a third-period power play. The Flyers ended up having to kill two New York man advantages in the final 10 minutes of regulation in order to force overtime.

The extra session is when Mason was just as good, if not better, stoning Tavares on a breakaway attempt that had game-winner written all over it. Mason made four saves in overtime after 13 in the third period.

“I was happy with the way that, personally, this game went for myself,” Mason said Sunday. “It’s been a tough stretch and this is more the type of game that I expect of myself. In recent games, the team was lacking the big saves and tonight it shows what kind of difference it can make.”

It was a massive performance heading into a massive three-game stretch against the Rangers, Maple Leafs and Hurricanes.

“Mase made some huge saves for us,” Simmonds said. “It allowed us to get back in that game.

“It’s not just Mase [with the] ups and downs. Everyone in here has been kind of fighting it and squeezing sticks pretty tight. That one felt good and I think Mase led the charge for sure.”

Mason understands just one game doesn’t turn around a season.

“It’s nice to feel good after a game,” Mason said. “At the same time, whether you’re winning or losing, you have to have a short mindset and get ready for the next one.”

That brings the Flyers to Madison Square Garden Wednesday to face the Rangers, who they’ve lost five straight games to dating back to last season. Mason hasn’t had much luck against New York this season, allowing seven goals in two losses with an .860 save percentage. However, in 2015-16, Mason put up a 1.74 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in five games against the Rangers.

“That’s going to be a tough game going into MSG,” Mason said Tuesday (see story).

The good thing: Mason was in New York two days ago, remembering what he can be.

Flyers in familiar spot in standings as critical games before break await

Flyers in familiar spot in standings as critical games before break await

While many people believe the Flyers are in far better shape right now than where they were a year ago, the fact is, they are pretty much the same.
 
After 48 games played, the Flyers have the same number of points now as they did last season – 52.
 
The critical difference – and this is why fans say they’re better off – is that a year ago at this juncture, the Flyers were five points behind Pittsburgh in the wild-card chase.
 
Right now, they own the second wild-card spot, but there are five teams behind them within four points or less of catching them, two of which have games in hand.
 
Earlier this week, Toronto was ahead of them and the Maple Leafs have three games in hand, which makes Thursday’s showdown against the upstart Leafs at Wells Fargo Center a very critical game.
 
That game represents the back end of the Flyers' 13th back-to-back set, which starts Wednesday with a date at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.
 
If ever two games in a short week prior to the All-Star break were of prime significance, these next two seem to qualify.
 
“A hundred percent,” said Jakub Voracek, the Flyers' leading scorer with 42 points. “It’s the same for every game. Practice and come to the rink with a win in your head.”
 
To a man, the Flyers go into the nationally televised showdown with the Rangers feeling great about themselves because of the extraordinary effort they showed in Sunday’s 3-2 comeback victory against the Islanders in OT.
 
“I felt like we won the Stanley Cup with that overtime goal,” Voracek kidded. “That’s how happy we were. There was a lot of relief. Now we have to keep going.”
 
Just five points separate nine teams from the second wild-card position right now. The Eastern Conference is just as tight as it’s always been. Within the Metropolitan Division, just five points separate the Flyers from the three times tied for last in the conference – the Islanders, Sabres and Lightning.  
 
“It’s been that way,” said coach Dave Hakstol. “Right from the drop of the puck in October, it was going to be a battle. You can’t get too distracted by it. You worry about the job in hand and that’s tomorrow.”
 
The focus this week is rather narrow: two games left before the All-Star break begins on Friday.
 
“Yeah, both these games have implications directed to us in the standings,” said goalie Steve Mason, who will start against the Rangers. “Both being Eastern Conference teams and they are right with one another.
 
“We have to have a short mindset. We have the Rangers and that’s going to be a tough game going into MSG. Once that game is over, we focus on the Leafs.”
 
The Rangers have beaten the Flyers twice this season already – both in South Philly. While the games were mostly competitive, there remains a huge disparity in one critical area for both teams this season: goal differential.
 
The Rangers have a plus-40 differential while the Flyers check in at minus-18. As poor as Henrik Lundqvist (2.75 goals against average) has been this season – although his recent performances are trending upward – he still owns the Flyers.
 
In his last 15 games against the Flyers, going back to Jan. 1, 2013, Lundqvist is 11-3-0 with a 1.91 GAA and .938 save percentage.
 
“This is huge, especially in MSG,” Voracek said. “We lost two games in a row to them at home. Hopefully, we get points.”
 
In his last three starts this month, Lundqvist is 3-0 with a 1.32 GAA and .952 save percentage. In other words, the “old” King Henrik appears to have regained his throne just in time to face the Flyers.
 
“Their goaltender has been outstanding over this past stretch for them,” Hakstol said. “Their team is playing well.
 
“We have to worry more about our team. We’re not going to control what their side is going to do. We can control what we do.”