Steve Mason set for his biggest game in 5 years

usastevemason.jpg

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 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.