Mason 'everything' for Flyers so far this season

slideshow-flyers-mason-tunnel-uspresswire.jpg

Mason 'everything' for Flyers so far this season

The only bright spot on the Flyers right now is goaltender Steve Mason.

In fact, this is the first time in quite a while you could point to the Flyers and make the statement that while everything else might be up for grabs, there is no issue in goal.

Mason has a 2.37 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. He’s given the Flyers a chance in every game he’s played and deserves better than a 1-5 record.

“He’s been everything to us this year,” Wayne Simmonds said. “He’s standing on his head every single game, keeping us in the game, making every single save he can make and it sucks for him because we’re not supporting him on the other end.”

Six times the Flyers have gone into the third period trailing by a goal. That means the game was right there for the taking.

In four of those games, Mason has been the goaltender. In each case, the Flyers lost and another solid effort was wasted.

Thursday’s 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh was yet another example.

Mason is no stranger to poor records, though he never expected this kind of thing in Philadelphia.

“We went a few years in Columbus with a lot of down times,” he said. “A lot of losing went on. When the losses pile up early in the season, it’s easy to let that affect you. But the group of guys we have here, I’m confident we’ll find a solution sooner rather than later.”

Mason simply has no goal support, especially in third periods when the Flyers have been tattooed, 12-2, in scoring.

“When you’re only scoring one goal a game, it is tough to win hockey games and it puts pressure on us when we are in a defensive zone,” Mason said.

“We are going to have to start creating offensive chances in order to begin digging ourselves out of this hole that we’re in.”

He continued to say he feels “confident” in the net. He should. He looks the part.

“This is how I finished off last season, being comfortable here,” Mason said. “That’s just my goal -- maintain consistency. That’s the biggest thing for any goaltender. Be that consistent, solid presence at the back end. That is what I am focused on right now.”

The players feel bad for him.

“Steve has been sharp this season,” Max Talbot said. “He gives us a chance to win every night. If you take away empty-net goals, I mean, 90 percent of the games are one-goal games, so he has been keeping us in the game every night.

“He’s been outstanding. I think once we start putting the puck in the back of the net, it will heighten our chances.”

Mason deserved a better fate against the Penguins for keeping the Flyers in the game 2-1 going into the third period when the Flyers could have been blown out 5-0 in the second.

“It’s obviously tough being a goalie in the net when you are only getting one or two goals a night,” Brayden Schenn said.

“He is probably a little bit frustrated with that because he is playing well and he is making key saves at key times for us and you just like to help him out one night and give him some goal support and we haven’t done that yet.”

The Flyers had hope, but they blew some very good scoring chances in the third period, including a couple open nets.

“Our first two periods weren’t great,” Mason said. “Our second in particular wasn’t a good period in hockey. We’re not going to win games playing like that. In the third period, that’s the way we need to play.

“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to capitalize on some chances and before you knew it, the game’s over.”

Best of NHL: Lightning capture OT win over Red Wings

Best of NHL: Lightning capture OT win over Red Wings

DETROIT -- Nikita Kucherov scored 3:28 into overtime to lift the Tampa Bay Lightning over the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 on Friday night.

Situated on the edge of the crease, Kucherov redirected a hard pass from Brayden Point into the net.

The Lightning are one point behind the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders for the final Eastern Conference wild card.

Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg opened the scoring 8:03 into the second period. Taking a backhand pass from Gustav Nyquist, Zetterberg flipped a knuckling wrist shot toward the goal and over the stick-side shoulder of goalie Andrei Vasilievskiy, who struggled to find the puck through the screen of teammate Point (see full recap).

Islanders notch shootout win over Penguins
PITTSBURGH -- John Tavares and Anthony Beauvillier scored in the shootout to lead the New York Islanders over the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 on Friday night.

Beauvillier opened the shootout with a goal, and Tavares snapped a wrist shot past Marc-Andre Fleury in the next round. Sidney Crosby scored in the shootout for Pittsburgh, but Jaroslav Halak, making his first start since Dec. 29, stopped Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino.

Anders Lee scored his 28th goal of the season, while Brock Nelson got his 17th and Casey Cizikas his eighth for the Islanders, who moved into the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. New York is tied with Boston at 82 points, but the Islanders have a game in hand on the Bruins. The Islanders have 18 wins in 31 games since Doug Weight was named interim coach on Jan. 17, replacing Jack Capuano.

Halak, a former All-Star, made 37 saves (see full recap).

Cracknell nets first hat trick in Stars' win
DALLAS -- Adam Cracknell got his first hat trick in seven NHL seasons and the Dallas Stars handed the San Jose Sharks their fifth straight loss, 6-1 on Friday night.

Cracknell opened the scoring in the first period, capped a three-goal flurry in the second and beat goalie Aaron Dell on a short-handed breakaway in the third for his career-high 10th goal of the season.

The Sharks entered two points ahead of Anaheim and Edmonton in the Pacific Division despite their longest losing streak of the season. San Jose has been outscored 16-5 during the stretch.

Brett Ritchie, Jamie Benn and John Klingberg also scored for the Stars.

Joe Thornton scored for San Jose on the power play in the second period. Dell had 23 saves.

Dallas' Kari Lehtonen made 20 saves four nights after shutting out San Jose (see full recap).

Flyers-Wild 10 observations: Sean Couturier shows flash, Matt Read answers call & more

Flyers-Wild 10 observations: Sean Couturier shows flash, Matt Read answers call & more

You know Dave Hakstol has reached crisis measures when he takes a skill player in Travis Konecny and throws him onto the fourth line while promoting Matt Read to the top line.

This was risk-taking at its craziest to generate some enthusiasm and life into a Flyers squad that didn't show much of a pulse a few nights earlier in Winnipeg.

Guess what?

It worked during a 3-1 victory on Thursday, the Flyers' fifth straight win over the Wild going back a few years (see Instant Replay).

Their playoff hopes still flicker.

As much as the fan base hated the lineup moves, consider this: general manager Ron Hextall was very explicit this week in saying that the roster Hakstol has right now is what it is. Hextall is not going to promote any young Phantoms into a bad situation when they are headed for what could be a decent playoff run in the AHL.

Therefore, as my former colleague Bill Lyon would say, here are 10 things I think, I think …

1. The Flyers began the game as they have so often this season with yet another turnover and scoring chance against them. Rinse and repeat. The Flyers had three turnovers in less than five minutes to start the game.

2. Minutes later, Steve Mason coughed up a bad rebound off his stick and Zach Parise burned him with a gimme goal for a 1-0 lead. Mason had issues in this one with rebounds that were looking like grenades, but he settled down with a strong final two periods with 24 saves. This was Mason's 100th win as a Flyer (see game story).

3. You had to see it to believe it. Sean Couturier with a nice backhand shot through Devan Dubnyk's five-hole to make it a 1-1 game near the end of the opening period (see feature highlight). I haven't seen that kind of offensive move from Couturier in quite some time. Question is, why can't he do that nightly instead of semiannually? That's the offensive spark you know Couturier is capable of providing.

4. The Wild were very aggressive in this one as they were trying to clinch a playoff spot, so the Flyers had to match that intensity. The Flyers more than matched it. This was far, far better than what Hakstol's team brought to the ice in Winnipeg. Not even close, as the Flyers dominated.

5. Matt Read had a quick stick -- no other way to explain it -- on his goal in the second period off a series of Wild turnovers that came about because of a play set up by Jakub Voracek. That goal seemingly stunned Dubnyk. It was Read's second goal in the last two games. He was all over the ice in this one. Many nights this season, Read was invisible. Not this game.

6. The Flyers had some genuine scoring chances in this game. You had to wonder where this desire to skate, create and score was all through the month of February and into March. The Flyers had strong forecheck pressure and a rebound-attack mentality the entire second period. If that had happened with regularity down the stretch, this team would be sitting in the wild card right now.

7. While the shake-up of the lines obviously benefited Read, it did little for Konecny and actually set him back. He was invisible. No shots. No hits. Invisible with little ice time. Really can't figure this move out but obviously, Hakstol is upset with him for some reason.

8. Minnesota went all in at the NHL trade deadline to get Martin Hanzal and Ryan White, forking over four draft picks, including a first-rounder. The Wild were leading the Central Division before losing six straight (and eight of nine) that allowed Chicago to regain the top spot in the division. The Wild don't look like the same confident, surging team it was a month ago in the Western Conference.

9. Minnesota had a strong push in the final five minutes and the Flyers had some initial difficulty answering that until the final minute when Wayne Simmonds picked up his 300th point as a Flyer on Voracek's empty-net goal to seal the deal. A nice way to finish off a complete effort by everyone involved.

10. The Flyers picked up two points on Boston, which lost to Tampa Bay, and are six behind the Bruins in the wild card. They still remain a l-o-n-g shot to make the playoffs, given the sheer number of teams ahead of them that they need to climb over.