Nearly 3 weeks later, Mason looking to stay hot

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Nearly 3 weeks later, Mason looking to stay hot

When the Olympic break began on Feb. 9, Steve Mason was a hot goalie.

The 25-year-old Canadian had won three straight games, four of his last five, had two shutouts and came within 90 seconds of a third.

Mason was in the kind of groove every goalie wants with the stretch run to the playoffs around the bend.

That 23-game run begins Thursday for the Flyers when San Jose visits town.

“It’s great to have time off to relax and not have any stress, but at the end of the day, this is the time we look for,” said Mason, who spent some time in the Bahamas with nine childhood buddies during the break.

“We look forward to it each and every day. It’s nice to get away from the pressures the NHL season brings, refresh and get ready for this last stretch.”

Mason spent some on-ice practice time last week with goalie coach Jeff Reese trying to fine tune some aspects of his game.

“We are doing a lot of technical [things] right now,” Reese said. “Things we really haven’t had a chance to do a lot of because the schedule has been so condensed. It’s nice to get out early and do some things we have not had a chance to do.”

Interestingly, one of the things they did was analyze some video of U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick (L.A. Kings) and Finnish goalie Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins).

What they looked at was how both goalies play the puck when it’s behind the net, where so many NHL teams now are trying to set up plays.

“Tuukka Rask and Jonathan Quick ... when pucks are behind the net and they have players in front, they tend to be on the knees, which is a safe play that can take away the lower part of the net on quick jam plays,” Mason said.

“Those are some of the best goaltenders in the league. Any time you can learn something from your peers, it is something you can take advantage of.”

Mason, who goes into the Sharks encounter with a 2.49 goals against average and .918 save percentage, said he doesn’t divide the stretch run into any specific segment of games.

Fourteen of those games, incidentally, are on home ice.

“You can make the playoffs or miss by a hair,” Mason said. “The only way to not get overrun by this is to take it day by day and game by game and not look too far ahead. It’s going to be extremely busy at the end of the season for us. We have to take it in stride.

“On a personal note, just to pick up where the game left off at the break. If everything goes according to plan, we’ll be in the playoffs.

“We’re extremely comfortable with the team we have. If we’re able to make it, we’ll make some noise and there’s a lot of work to be done in order to get there. Our fate is in our own hands.”

Most coaches will tell you that an 18-day layoff for a hot goalie is lot more destructive to their game than a forward who was on a goal-scoring spree.

“When players get back into regular season, they have their linemates who can help pick them up,” Mason said. “But when a goaltender is having an off night, it’s pretty obvious.

“Pucks are going in. For myself, make sure when Thursday night rolls around I am confident in my own game. Utilize this week to my best of my abilities.”

Reese isn’t calling it a “cram” session like final exams, but last week and this week will see a decent amount of classroom work off the ice.

“Jeff has some things he wants me to keep working on,” Mason said. “We had a full week of practice to do that. We have not been strapped for time to get that work done.

“There is a little sense of urgency to it. Come Thursday, we’re not taking baby steps, we’re ready right off the first puck drop and ready to go.”

Reese said the biggest thing for Mason and his backup, Ray Emery, was mental relaxation before the pressure of the stretch run.

“It’s not like they can’t get it back,” Reese said. “They are both well-rested. Mentally, it’s important that they got away from it a little bit.

“Both are looking forward to getting back into it. It’s going to be important for them to play well down the stretch and help get us in.”

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Jonathan Bernier

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Jonathan Bernier

Each day this week until July 1, the day free agency begins, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone will profile the five best goalie options for the Flyers on the open market and project their likelihood of signing.

Jonathan Bernier
Age: 28
Height: 6-0
Weight: 184
Last team: Anaheim Ducks
2016-17 cap hit: $4.15 million

Scouting report
After being drafted 11th overall in 2006, Bernier was a highly-touted goaltender coming up in the Los Angeles Kings system and performed well in a backup role for five seasons in L.A.

But with Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles, Bernier was blocked from getting a viable opportunity to be a No. 1 with the Kings. In June 2013, they shipped him to Toronto.

Bernier did not capitalize on his opportunity with the Maple Leafs, however. He never established himself as a high-end starting goalie in three seasons despite a strong first year.

In 2013-14, Bernier was 26-19-7 with a 2.68 goals-against average and .923 save percentage with the Leafs but that save percentage continually dropped the next two years.

Toronto decided to cut ties with Bernier after the 2015-16 season and traded him to the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional draft pick. He spent last season backing up John Gibson.

Appearing in 39 games last season for the Ducks, Bernier posted a 21-7-4 record with a 2.50 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and two shutouts.

One note about Bernier: Flyers general manager Ron Hextall was an assistant GM in Los Angeles when the Kings drafted him in 2006, so there is a connection there.

Dougherty's projection
I don’t think Bernier is the best option available for the Flyers but the most likely. Maybe I’m putting too much weight on the Hextall connection here, maybe not. We’ll see.

Bernier fits what the Flyers appear to want in a goalie going forward: a short-term veteran option who can share the net with Michal Neuvirth in a platoon situation.

Hextall isn’t looking for the Flyers’ goalie of the future this summer. He believes he has that in the system already but needs to bide time for Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom.

But he will be looking for a goalie who he can trust playing around 40 games or more next season and give the team quality in net. In that role, Bernier would be a solid fit.

He hasn’t panned out as projected and we could use him as one example of why we don’t see many goaltenders drafted high in the first round. They’re tough to project.

With that said, Bernier has found success in the past, including last season in Anaheim, in either a platoon or backup situation. He’ll come at a reasonable price, too.

A tandem of Neuvirth-Bernier would not be the worst thing in the world for the Flyers; it wouldn’t be the best, either. I think it would give them enough in net to compete.

If I had to predict which goaltender on the market will be here next season, it is Bernier.

Hall's projection
I see Bernier as one of the least realistic options for the Flyers.
 
The 2006 11th overall pick hasn't quite lived up to the hype, but he still has some cachet, probably too much for the Flyers in this spot.
 
He turns only 29 in August and in a backup role last season, his 2.50 goals-against average and .915 save percentage still ranked in the top 15 among NHL goalies that played 39 games or more.
 
The role and price in which the Flyers will offer shouldn't attract Bernier much. From the sound of Hextall, I expect him to be judicious in adding a goalie. This sounds much more like a stopgap, temporary position than anything future oriented.
 
There's a connection with the Flyers' GM here, but that might be it when it comes to the Bernier scenario.

Paone's projection
I find Bernier to be an intriguing option for the Flyers.

First and foremost, there is plenty of familiarity with Bernier within the Flyers' organization. Hextall and current Flyers goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh were both parts of the Kings' organization when Bernier was drafted in 2006 and worked with him during his development into an NHL goaltender. They not only know the type of player and competitor they'd be getting, they also know the type of person they'd be getting and that plays a role, too.

Bernier had a very strong campaign for the Ducks last season. That certainly makes him an attractive option for the Flyers. He did his best to prove he can be a reliable option again after things soured for him in Toronto. But, hey, a lot of things went sour in Toronto during those times.

But that strong campaign with Anaheim last season will have Bernier wanting opportunity and more of it. With Neuvirth entrenched here, how much opportunity would there actually be for Bernier here? Would the Flyers present the type of opportunity he's looking for after last year's showing with the Ducks? My guess is no. He'll likely want an opportunity to take on much more of a workload.

So while the option is intriguing for many reasons and it certainly isn't out of the realm of possibility, I ultimately feel this is an option both he and the Flyers pass on.

Flyers re-sign defenseman Mark Alt to 1-year, 2-way deal

Flyers re-sign defenseman Mark Alt to 1-year, 2-way deal

One day after extending qualifying offers to seven restricted free agents (see story), the Flyers re-signed Mark Alt, who was unrestricted.

The Phantoms' defenseman agreed to a one-year, two-way deal on Tuesday that will play him $125,000 in the AHL and $650,000 in the NHL.

The 25-year-old has played four years with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. 

He had one goal and 11 points last season in 40 AHL games.

Alt's only NHL appearance was his debut as a Flyer on March 28, 2015, at San Jose.

Alt has 68 points (12 goals) in 237 AHL games.