Steve Mason set for his biggest game in 5 years

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Steve Mason set for his biggest game in 5 years

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Assuming he gets the start in net as he’s expected to, Steve Mason will play his most important game in five years Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

Mason hasn’t made a playoff appearance since 2008-09 as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and he hasn’t so much as been in the playoff hunt since then either.

“It’s extremely exciting being a part of a playoff push,” Mason said. "It’s been a while for myself, and with the Flyers missing the playoffs last season, I think everybody was fed up with having a long summer. That’s not what hockey players enjoy. It’s the meaningful games that we’re having right now that make hockey fun.

“Right now, we’ve put ourselves in a good spot, but we can’t be taking games off like we did [Monday] night. You have to keep pushing forward.”

That’s exactly what the Mason and the Flyers will attempt to do Wednesday night. After their loss to the Los Angeles Kings Monday, and the Rangers’ overtime victory over the Phoenix Coyotes, the Flyers fell into third place into the Metropolitan Division. The Rangers lead them by a point (see story).

There’s a lot at stake tonight: The season series. Playoff positioning. A critical two points (see story).

“It’s huge,” Mason said. “Just because, you look at us losing … and the Rangers winning, they leapfrogged us. Every point is huge. If we were able to get into overtime, that one point would have been the difference between us being ahead of them.

“[Tonight] if we can pull off a victory, it’s going to be huge in the standings, just like every other game for the remainder of the season.”

The Rangers are expected to start Henrik Lundqvist in net opposite Mason, which just drives the Flyers’ goaltender to play that much harder. Mason looked very good against the Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center earlier this season.

“You realize that you just have to be that much better, because you know he’s going to bring his best stuff every single night,” Mason said.

Familiar foe
Tonight’s game marks the Flyers’ first chance to face off against Martin St. Louis as a Ranger.

It’s going to be strange for Vinny Lecavalier, St. Louis’ longtime teammate with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who said he was “shocked” at the trade deadline to learn of St. Louis’ being traded to the Rangers.

“It’ll be weird for sure,” Lecavalier said. “I watched a few games of theirs, but just to play against him -- it was weird playing against him this year when he was with Tampa, but to be in a different jersey, it’s going to be a little awkward, that’s for sure.”

Blocking shots
Like the Kings and St. Louis Blues, the Rangers are a strong shot-blocking team. That’s sure to pose an extra challenge Wednesday, just as it did in the Flyers' loss Monday.

“We need to do a better job to get it through,” Claude Giroux said. “Sometimes it doesn’t have to be hard, it has to be on net and there will be rebounds around. We’ve got a lot of good guys that can get those rebounds in front of the net. At the end of the day it’s just about making sure it hits the net.”

Flyers-Oilers 5 things: Winning streak meets Connor McDavid

Flyers-Oilers 5 things: Winning streak meets Connor McDavid

Flyers (15-10-3) vs. Oilers (14-10-4)
7 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com, Pregame Live at 6:30

The hottest team in the NHL will meet the hottest young star on Thursday night when the Flyers host the Edmonton Oilers at the Wells Fargo Center.

Here are five things you need to know for the matchup:

1. McDavid and Co.
The Flyers are going for their seventh consecutive victory, which would tie their longest winning streak since Dec. 2-15, 2011, when they also won seven in a row.

In order to do so, they’ll have to slow down transcendent talent Connor McDavid and the prolific but streaky Oilers.

McDavid, a generational player, has thus far lived up to all the hype surrounding him as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft. In just his second NHL season — and first with a healthy start after an injured-shortened rookie year (45 games) — the 19-year-old leads all of hockey in points with 36, while no other player has yet to eclipse 30.

His 25 assists also rank atop the NHL, while his 11 goals are among the top 22 and his plus-8 rating is tied for ninth best between all centers.

“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said Wednesday. “It’s tough not to be excited when playing against a guy who plays like this. He competes every second he is on the ice.”

And he has help.

Linemates Leon Draisaitl (11 goals, 11 assists) and Milan Lucic (eight goals, 12 assists) can do damage, as can Jordan Eberle (eight goals, 13 assists).

2. Defense wins games
The Flyers are playing better and cleaner in front of their goaltender — who has been great (see below) — and the results are showing.

The orange and black have gone five straight games of allowing two or fewer goals.

Why were they so up and down before this run? Well, they had surrendered two or fewer goals in just five of their previous 23 games.

“That’s unbelievable for us,” Wayne Simmonds said after Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the Panthers. “At the beginning of the year, to say we’d have five straight without giving up more than two would be a stretch.

“We’ve locked it down defensively and Mase has played unbelievable. We’ve been pretty good as five-man units.”

3. Mase the man
A confident Steve Mason is a dangerous Steve Mason.

Right now, Mason has the net and is gaining steam by the game.

Over his past five outings, the 28-year-old is 5-0-0 with a 1.74 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.

Just as impressive, since Nov. 12, Mason is 8-3-1 with a 2.11 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.

“I've said it numerous times, I want to be playing lots of hockey,” Mason said Tuesday. “This is a position that I'm used to being in and where I'm most comfortable. So just have to keep continuing to put my work in and whenever [head coach Dave Hakstol] calls my name, be ready."

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: You always have to watch Simmonds, but especially now with the winger coming off back-to-back two-goal games. Simmonds leads the NHL with eight power-play goals and is second in man-advantage points (13) to only teammate Claude Giroux (14).

Oilers: With all the attention zeroed in on McDavid, we’ll go with the 21-year-old Draisaitl, who has seven goals in his last nine games and 14 points in his past 12. The No. 3 overall pick in 2014 is an intelligent playmaker capable of hurting you.

5. This and that
• Mason is 8-4-0 with just a 3.49 goals-against average and .872 save percentage in 13 career games against Edmonton.

• Oilers goalie Jonas Gustavsson will make his fourth start of the season. He’s 1-1-1 on the year with 84 saves on 91 shots faced, but is 0-4-1 lifetime against the Flyers with a 3.57 goals-against average and .865 save percentage.

• The Flyers are fourth in the NHL in goals per game (3.11), while Edmonton is seventh (2.93).

• The Oilers have lost 10 of their last 15 games (5-7-3).

Wayne Simmonds, power play key to Flyers beating Oilers

Wayne Simmonds, power play key to Flyers beating Oilers

Todd McLellan saw a lot of Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov as a junior player in the Western Hockey League whenever the Brandon Wheat Kings would turn up in Edmonton.

“I watched him play in junior and had a chance to see that Brandon team play in Edmonton twice last year,” said the Edmonton Oilers coach.

“Obviously, a smooth, confident [player] with great vision. He has patience with the puck. Those are his offensive assets. 

“But he also positions himself well, defensively. He accepts that responsibility. For a young d-man, he is ahead of a lot of others because he can play on both sides of the puck.”

Provorov rattled Jaromir Jagr Tuesday when Florida was here (see story). Tonight he gets his first NHL taste of Connor McDavid.

McLellan said the Oilers' biggest challenge against the Flyers will be stopping the NHL’s second-ranked power play. Edmonton has the 11th best penalty kill.

His concern is Wayne Simmonds (8 power play goals) and Claude Giroux (14 power play points). 

“That power play is deadly and it really hasn’t changed — it’s just clicking,” McLellan said. “It has a couple trigger points. Obviously, Simmonds has the most goals in the league  and Giroux has the most points. But there’s other pieces to that power play, which are exceptional. 

“Our penalty kill has been taking it on the chin and I had to ask our guys today, 'Is it the penalty kill or the penalties?' In my opinion, it’s as much the penalties as the penalty kill. We have to stay out of the box.  

“This is a confident Flyers team. They feel very good in the offensive zone and make things happen. Their goaltender [Steve Mason] has been making saves for them that keeps them confident going the other way. It’s a team on the rise.”

The Streak
The Flyers are looking to make it seven straight wins tonight against the Oilers. The last time they won seven in arrow was Dec. 2-15 in 2011. They did not have a morning skate.

On Mason
Tuesday’s win against Florida was Steve Mason’s 88th as a Flyer, moving him past Pelle Lindbergh into sixth in franchise history. Mason needs six wins to move into third place in franchise history. 

Debut
Defenseman Dillon Simpson will make his Oilers debut tonight in Philadelphia. He is the son of former Oiler Craig Simpson. 

The oddity? Last year, Keegan Lowe made his Oilers' debut here in Philadelphia. He is the son of Kevin Lowe, longtime coach and front office executive for the Oilers. 

Colors
The Oilers wear three colors during their morning skate. Their defensemen dress in orange; their third and fourth lines dress in white and their top six skaters dress in blue. Now that’s an NHL hierarchy.