On Steve Mason slumping: if it’s not one thing for the Flyers, it’s another

On Steve Mason slumping: if it’s not one thing for the Flyers, it’s another

For a long stretch, the main reason the Philadelphia Flyers had a chance to win on any given night was between the pipes. Steve Mason, acquired from Columbus at last season’s trade deadline for Michael Leighton and a third-round pick, had played himself into early Vezina Trophy conversations over the first two months of the season.

Then the calendar flipped to December.

The last few games have not been so kind to Mason. After going 26 contests without allowing more than three goals in a Flyers uniform, the 25-year-old has done so three times in his last four starts. Most recently, Mase did his part to cough up a three-goal lead to the Capitals in the contest’s final 10 minutes on Sunday, eventually picking up the loss in a shootout.

That dropped Mason’s record to 1-1-2 over the last four. He’s posted an .890 save percentage and 3.31 goals against average in six appearances total for the month of December.

The natural concern—albeit hastily reached—is Mason is merely reverting to form. After all, there’s a reason he could be had at a discount last April. The 2008-09 Rookie of the Year had been mired in a years-long freefall before he arrived in Philadelphia. Maybe that’s just who he is.

For what it’s worth, the kid’s confidence doesn’t seem shaken, which most believe was part of the problem in Columbus. Inquirer beat writer Sam Carchidi spoke to an upbeat Mason for the Tuesday edition:

"Nothing to lose sleep over," the goalie said with a smile Monday after practice at the Wells Fargo Center.

...

"Call it a couple of bad-luck goals, but it's nothing I'm too worried about," Mason said. "There's been so many positive things, and just because a couple of goals have gone in, I'm not going to stray from what has been working. It's a long season and those things are going to happen; it's just how you handle that little bit of adversity."

Unfortunately, Mason’s slump—or whatever this is—happens to correlate with a slight uptick in offense for the orange and black. Over the first 15 games of the season, Philadelphia potted a putrid 1.46 goals per game. In the 18 tilts since, the team is averaging a solid 3.00, yet two of their higher-scoring efforts have been wasted in shootout losses in the last eight days.

And the Flyers still aren’t scoring consistently. They’ve only eclipsed two goals in four of their last 11, so let’s not go hanging any mission accomplished banners for the offense. It’s a work in progress.

That’s the problem the club seems to be having now. For months, they had to rely on stellar goaltending to hang most nights. Now they’re finally lighting the lamp with a bit more frequency, but the netminder isn’t standing on his head every night.

It’s unfair to Mason given the season he’s been having, and he’ll have a chance to turn things around. It also ignores the role of the defense in front of the crease, particularly a lineup of defensemen that returned almost everybody from last season’s much maligned unit. Let's not forget, backup netminder Ray Emery hasn't exactly looked sharp lately, either.

Then again, few people probably thought Mason would play himself into early Vezina consideration. His performance in the early part of the year, though it kept the Flyers afloat, was not entirely counted upon in the first place.

All of which speaks to the broader problem with the team, that it still appears to be broken. When the Flyers get great goaltending, they can’t score. When the Flyers score in bunches, they falter defensively and in net. Maybe at some point this season, everything will start clicking at the right time.

So far, that’s not been the case. Either they need to be a great scoring team or a great goaltending team, because it doesn’t appear they’re going to be both. Lately, they’ve been neither.

>> Mason says he's not worried after bad outing [Inq]

National champion Villanova to be honored at White House next week

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USA Today Images

National champion Villanova to be honored at White House next week

It's been nearly two months since Villanova won the National Championship in one of the most memorable games in NCAA Tournament history.

Since then, the Wildcats have been honored by the city (parade), the New York Stock Exchange (opening bell), the Phillies (first pitch), the Flyers and the Union. Earlier this week, head coach Jay Wright addressed the Eagles.

But that will all pale in comparison to where the Wildcats will be next Tuesday, when they become the latest championship team to visit the White House and meet President Barack Obama.

The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 4:10 p.m. and will be streamed on www.whitehouse.gov/live.

In his pool, President Obama had Villanova finally advancing past the second round — "I know that eventually they're going to break through. They've had some bad luck over the last couple of years," Obama told ESPN.com — but had the Wildcats falling to Kansas in the regional semifinal.

He then had Kansas beating North Carolina to win the title.

After surviving the first weekend for the first time since their Final Four run in 2009, Villanova ousted Kansas, 64-59, before shocking Buddy Hield and Oklahoma in the national semifinal, winning by 44. The Wildcats then won one of the most memorable championship games in NCAA Tournament history when Kris Jenkins hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to beat the Tar Heels, 77-74.

Union transfer contract of Michael Lahoud to Miami FC

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Union transfer contract of Michael Lahoud to Miami FC

The Union have cashed in on Michael Lahoud.

After terminating his loan to the New York Cosmos on Tuesday, the Union recalled Lahoud and officially sold the 29-year-old midfielder to Miami FC of the NASL for an undisclosed amount.

“Mike always served the club in a professional manner during his time here,” said Union sporting director Earnie Stewart, who loaned Lahoud to the Cosmos this offseason. “We thank him for his service and want to wish him the best of luck in Miami and in his future endeavors.”

Lahoud, whose prorated $115,637.50 guaranteed salary comes off the Union’s salary cap, was acquired in 2012 in a trade with Chivas USA for defender Danny Califf. He made 58 appearances with the Union before being loaned out.

Eagles' left guard job is Allen Barbre's, but backups are pushing

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Eagles' left guard job is Allen Barbre's, but backups are pushing

Allen Barbre is the Eagles’ starting left guard.

For now.

The 31-year-old offensive lineman started all 16 games at left guard in 2015, and as of Tuesday at OTAs, he was still a starter for Doug Pederson’s new-look offense.

But that could change.

There are several players pushing for the left guard spot. Among them are Stefen Wisniewski, Malcolm Bunche, Isaac Seumalo and Andrew Gardner.

“I definitely am trying to start somewhere,” said Wisniewski, a free-agent signing. “I think I would be a good starting left guard.”

Wisniewski, 27, signed a one-year prove-it deal in early April to join the Eagles (see story). After being taken in the second round of the 2011 draft, Wisniewski has started 77 of 80 possible games in the NFL. He clearly views himself as a starter in the NFL.

For the last two weeks, he’s been working with the second team at guard and center.

“Yeah, it’s weird. It’s definitely weird,” Wisniewski said. “I haven’t spent much time with the twos in five years. Probably a week or two. So it’s definitely different, but I’m just looking at it as a temporary thing, though.”

This offseason, the Eagles added veteran Brandon Brooks to play right guard, taking over for Matt Tobin, but Barbre is still slotted on the left side. In fact, to hammer the point home, the starting offensive linemen have their lockers in a row in the deep corner of the locker room, from left to right: Jason Peters, Barbre, Jason Kelce, Brooks, Lane Johnson.

So, as of late May, Barbre is still the starter.

“I really like where we're at. I like the depth at that position right now,” Pederson said last week. “But yeah, Allen Barbre is my guy and he's our starter.”

Wisniewski is the most accomplished of the backups pushing for that starting left guard spot, but he’s not alone.

Bunche, who was on the Eagles’ practice squad in 2015 after going undrafted out of UCLA, has been working with the second team at left guard during practice. And the second-year player thinks he has a shot at the starting job too.

“Oh yes. But not just that one,” Bunche said. “Throughout the season, anything can happen. That’s one thing that [offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland], he talks about it a lot, you never know when you’re number is going to be called. You just gotta stay in tune with what’s being called, the play-calling, the different techniques going into certain games. I feel I have an opportunity to take that spot if I wanted to. My mindset it to come in and get better each and every day.”

Another possible starting left guard isn’t with the team right now. Third-round pick Seumalo, from Oregon State, is back at school because of the NFL graduation rule and Oregon State’s quarters system. He would be a logical choice to compete for that starting job, but he’s missing valuable time at OTAs.

Meanwhile, Barbre, who had started just eight total games in his seven-year career before 2015, is trying to stave off his competitors. The veteran knows the team brought in a bunch of new offensive linemen this offseason (they have 17 on the roster). He just doesn’t care.

“Honestly, I wasn’t really worried about that,” Barbre said Tuesday. “Honestly, I thought I played fairly decent (in 2015), if you studied the film and you understood what went on. There was a lot of stuff that was tough on the O-line, so it made it kind of tough on us.”

The criticism of the offensive line last season was loud, especially criticism of the guard positions, but Barbre did his best to avoid it.  

“I don’t even read it,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t even care. You guys got your jobs and I have my job. We all have different things we have to do.”

Right now, Barbre’s job is to hold onto that starting spot, while Wisniewski and the rest try to steal it away.