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]

10 observations from Eagles-Colts

10 observations from Eagles-Colts

INDIANAPOLIS -- There wasn’t much not to like Saturday night.
 
There was Nelson Agholor. And Cody Parkey.
 
And that may be it.
 
The defensive line was unstoppable, Sam Bradford was razor sharp, Josh Huff made a bunch of big plays, the secondary got another takeaway, Ryan Mathews and Kenjon Barner ran the ball with authority, the first offensive line looked solid and even Chase Daniel threw the ball around pretty well.
 
The usual caveats apply. Yes, it’s only the preseason. Yes, the Colts were missing half their defense. Yes, we all know what happened after Green Bay last year.
 
Still. Looking good beats looking bad. Especially in the third preseason game. And the Eagles in just about every phase looked very good in their 33-23 win over the Colts (see Instant Replay).
 
So let’s dive into my 10 Instant Observations at Lucas Oil Stadium.
 
1. We got a nice, extended look at the Eagles’ defensive line against a real offense, and it was one heck of a dominating performance. That group, with everybody rotating in, generated tremendous pressure on Andrew Luck, didn’t allow anything against the run and really controlled the football game. Brandon Graham, Bennie Logan, Vinny Curry, Connor Barwin and of course Fletcher Cox all played at a high level, with Cox even lining up at defensive end on occasion. This group is the strength of the football team, and judging by the way they played Saturday night, it is quite a strength. They were tremendous.
 
2. I felt like this was really an important game for Nelson Agholor. It’s not like he’s going to get cut. As a first-round draft pick a year ago, he has some built-in protection. But with the Colts missing half their secondary, it seemed like a real opportunity for Agholor to shine, to build up some confidence and make some big plays down the field. Which we’ve been waiting for since he got here. Instead, he booted the only ball thrown his way and it turned into a Colts interception, big return and three points. Bradford never threw his way again. We keep waiting for Agholor to show up, and it just isn’t happening. What a disappointment so far.
 
3.  On the other hand, there’s Josh Huff, who showed exactly why the Eagles feel he can be such a weapon. The former third-round pick, such a disappointment the last two years, had a tackle-breaking 38-yard catch and run, a 22-yard catch and a nine-yard touchdown run. When Huff isn’t doing something stupid, he can look downright electrifying, and that’s the Josh Huff we saw Saturday night. Can he do it in the regular season? I still think he can. He’s teased us before and maybe that’s what Saturday night was. But it was certainly encouraging to see.
 
4. Green Bay last year, I know, I know. Still, Bradford was exceptionally sharp and really looked in command of the offense. Yes, the Colts were missing a bunch of cornerbacks – six defensive backs in all and a seventh got hurt during the game – but Bradford distributed the ball, showed good pocket presence, used a bunch of different weapons and most importantly put points on the scoreboard. Bradford was 17 for 20 for 167 yards with two TD passes and an INT off Agholor’s hands. He should have had just two incompletions. Bradford engineered touchdown drives of 63, 71 and 68 yards in addition to a 54-yard field goal drive. (For those of you who care about these things, Bradford’s career Week 3 preseason stats as an Eagle are 27-for-30 for 288 yards with five touchdowns and one INT and a passer rating of 132.4)
 
5. Haven’t said much this preseason about Ryan Mathews, but he looks terrific running the football. Mathews only got three carries Saturday night but ran for 31 yards. He’s turned 10 carries this preseason into 64 yards – a 6.4 average. We all know his injury history, but with Barner also looking sharp – 6 for 39 Saturday night, 19-for-115 (6.1 average) – hopefully the Eagles can limit Mathews’ carries, keep him healthy and get good production from both backs. With a handful of carries per game from Darren Sproles as well.
 
6. I didn’t mention Beau Allen earlier in my post about the defensive line, but the former seventh-round pick, now in his third year with the Eagles, made a couple big plays with the first unit Saturday night and has quietly had an impressive preseason. The 330-pound defensive tackle isn’t  just earning a roster spot, he’s earning playing time.
 
7. A few words about Trey Burton. Has this kid ever dropped a pass in his life? Five catches for 35 on Saturday night and they aren’t huge numbers, but he’s just smooth and consistent and steady. Burton was just a special teamer last year and obviously Zach Ertz and Brent Celek are going to be the top two tight ends in most situations, but I still think a kid with the combination of speed, size and hands that Burton has is too valuable to get rid of, and hopefully the Eagles find a way to use his talents on offense.
 
8. You don’t want to get too carried away with preseason, but interesting to note that the Eagles’ defense has allowed just one touchdown and has nine takeaways. I don’t care when the games are, that’s impressive. I’ve been impressed not just with the takeaways but with coverage, tackling, speed, angles to the ball. They just look disciplined, smart, fast and athletic.
 
9. Cody Parkey of 2014 vs. Caleb Sturgis is a no-brainer. You keep Parkey. But this isn’t the same Cody Parkey as the record-setting 2014 Pro Bowler. Maybe he’s not totally recovered from the groin injury that derailed his 2015 season. Whatever it is, Parkey is not the same guy who made 89 percent of his field goal attempts as a rookie. Sturgis has routinely out-performed Parkey in training camp, and the disparity between the two was on full display last night, with Sturgis easily making both his field goal attempts – a 32-yarder and a 47-yarder – and Parkey missing a PAT. Parkey has only attempted one field goal this preseason – he made a 40-yarder in Pittsburgh last week – but right now the Eagles really have no choice but to keep Sturgis, who made an unspectacular but acceptable 82 percent of his field goals last year. Parkey may have more upside and maybe he’ll regain his form somewhere else. But the Eagles can’t afford to wait.
 
10. Chase Daniel has put together a couple nice games in a row. Yes, working against scrubs, but his performance in the preseason opener vs. Tampa Bay was so bad it’s encouraging to see Daniel functioning like a real quarterback. He followed a 10 for 16 for 82 yards in Pittsburgh with 9 for 12 for 104 yards and a sharp 28-yard TD lob to David Watford in Indy. Considering Sam Bradford’s injury history, it’s a little reassuring to see some solid quarterbacking from Doug Pederson’s hand-picked backup.

Instant Replay: Mets 12, Phillies 1

Instant Replay: Mets 12, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK – Jeremy Hellickson’s string of strong starts ended Saturday night in the Phillies’ 12-1 loss to the New York Mets.

The Phillies had just three hits and were overpowered by Mets starter Noah Syndergaard.

Hellickson was tagged for five runs, the most he’d given up in a start since June 10, in just four innings. All the runs came on a pair of homers.

The Mets have clubbed eight homers – good for 18 runs – in the first two games of the series.

Phillies starting pitchers have had a poor month of August. They have allowed 92 earned runs in 114 innings for a 7.26 ERA and given up a majors-high 33 homers.

The Phils have lost 13 of their last 17 at Citi Field. They are 9-21 against the Mets the last two seasons.

Starting pitching report 
Hellickson entered the game with a 2.60 ERA in his previous 11 starts. He was victimized by the long ball in this one. All five of the runs he allowed over four innings came on home runs, a two-run shot and a three-run shot.

Hellickson is 10-8 with a 3.80 ERA in 26 starts this season.

By the way, Hellickson is staying for the remainder of the season. According to a baseball source, he was claimed on waivers this month and pulled back, making him ineligible for a trade.

Syndergaard’s fastball reached triple digits. He held the Phillies to two hits and a run over seven innings. He struck out seven. He is 12-7 with a 2.55 ERA.

Bullpen report 
David Hernandez relieved Hellickson and pitched two scoreless innings, but Michael Mariot was tagged for six runs in the seventh, four when he served up a grand slam.

At the plate
Freddy Galvis’ solo homer in the third inning was the Phillies’ offense.

Asdrubal Cabrera belted a two-run homer for the Mets in the third inning. Yoenis Cespedes smacked a three-run homer on a full-count pitch in the fourth. Cabrera has three homers in the first two games of the series.

Kelly Johnson cracked a pinch-hit grand slam to give the Mets a 10-run lead in the seventh. Neil Walker homered in the eighth.

Ellis arrives
A.J. Ellis, acquired from the Dodgers in the Carlos Ruiz trade, joined the club before the game. The veteran catcher is ready to offer some wisdom to the Phillies’ young pitchers (see story).

Up next
The series concludes on Sunday afternoon. Vince Velasquez (8-6, 4.31) pitches against Mets right-hander Robert Gsellman (1-0, 0.00). Gsellman will be making his first big-league start.

Instant Replay: Eagles 33, Colts 23

Instant Replay: Eagles 33, Colts 23

BOX SCORE

INDIANAPOLIS – Stop us if you’ve heard this before: the Eagles looked really good in the all-important third preseason game.
 
The offense hummed, the defense stuffed, and the team took down Andrew Luck and the Colts 33-23 at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night to improve to 3-0 this preseason.
 
Now, take that with a grain of salt. Heck, take it with a shaker of salt. The fan base was fooled last year when Sam Bradford and the Eagles looked Super Bowl-bound with a Preseason Week 3 win over the Packers. Cue up The Who’s “We Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
 
Still, the Eagles’ starters were impressive against the Colts on Saturday night on both sides of the ball.
 
Sam the man
Just like he did in this game last year, Bradford was extremely efficient. He completed 17 of 20 pass for 167 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception – and the interception wasn’t his fault.
 
https://twitter.com/RoobCSN/status/769697863236542465
 
Give credit to the first-team offensive line too. Despite the shuffling on the line, Bradford was kept pretty clean most of the night, was sacked just once.
 
Wideouts look like wideouts
The Eagles’ wide receivers caught footballs on Saturday night, an important check mark on the “are we a real team yet?” list. Josh Huff came to play on Saturday night and had an impressive game; he had a 38-yard catch in the first half. Huff is still dangerous when the Eagles can get the ball in his hands.
 
Perhaps the one play that will have Eagles fans most excited was a fade from Bradford to newcomer Dorial Green-Beckham for a four-yard touchdown. The Eagles tried a fade to DGB earlier in the game, but it looked like he weirdly stopped on the route.
 
One negative was Nelson Agholor’s drop in the first half. Bradford hit him in the hands and the second-year wideout popped it in the air for an interception. Rueben Randle didn’t get much work with the first team.
 
We also saw plenty of three-tight end sets, a sign of things to come. Trey Burton continues to catch everything, which included a touchdown pass on Saturday night.
 
Doug gets creative
The Eagles’ first touchdown came on a 9-yard jet sweep carry to Huff. We’ve seen the Eagles work these plays in during practice, but it finally happened in a game. While many fans have been rightfully frustrated by Huff, his versatility remains the big reason why he’s probably on the 53-man roster.
 
Dominant D-line
The Eagles need their defensive line to be the catalyst for the defense and it was on Saturday night. Connor Barwin, Beau Allen and Bennie Logan had first-half sacks. And they weren’t the only ones causing pressure. Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Taylor Hart also caused trouble.
 
A couple times, Jim Schwartz lined Cox up as a defensive end and Curry inside at tackle. Cox crushed Luck on one of those plays.
 
Keeping Luck in check
The Eagles held Luck to 134 yards and no touchdowns, while the Colts first-team offense had just 129 total net yards and was 2 for 7 on third downs. Luck made a few solid throws, but didn’t do too much damage.
 
Rest of the D
The rest of the defense certainly benefitted from the strong play up front. Mychal Kendricks didn’t stand out good or bad in his first game of the preseason. The team worked in undrafted rookie C.J. Smith with the first team to get an extended look at the youngster.
 
Nolan Carroll missed a tackle in the second half that led to a big gain. Carroll did start the game with Leodis McKelvin, completing his ascension to starter over Ron Brooks. A little later on that same drive, Carroll picked off a pass to end a long drive from the Colts. It was the Eagles’ eighth interception of the preseason and third in the red zone.
 
Kicker battle
Caleb Sturgis already appeared ahead of Cody Parkey for the kicker job and Saturday certainly didn’t do anything to change that. Sturgis hit a 32-yarder and a 47-yarder, while Parkey missed an extra point.
 
Injuries
Curry left early with a knee injury and didn’t return – although he wasn’t expected to continue to play anyway. Wendell Smallwood and Chris Pantale left the game early to be evaluated for head injuries. Pantale did not have a concussion and returned. Hart left the game with a knee sprain and didn’t return.
 
Several Eagles were ruled out earlier in the week and didn’t play: Carson Wentz, Jordan Matthews, Aaron Grymes, Mike Martin, Alex McCalister, Hunter Sharp, Joe Walker and Isaac Seumalo.
 
Up next
The Eagles wrap up the preseason next week, when they host the Jets on Sept. 1. After that, they’ll have a little over a week to prepare for the season opener at home against the Browns on Sept. 11.