NEWARK -- Here is what Jeff Reese likes about Steve Mason, besides the fact that he allowed only 12 goals in seven games as a Flyer last season:
“His athleticism is incredible for his size,” said the goaltending coach. “He moves well, he recovers well, he handles the puck well.”
In other words, Mason does all things Ilya Bryzgalov did not during two largely disappointing seasons in Philadelphia. Bryzgalov was a decent first-stop goalie, apparently all he had to be in Phoenix. But all his other antics aside, Bryzgalov was fast out the door from Philadelphia because he wasn’t any quicker with his glove or on his skates than he was to make friends.
Not that Dominik Hasek didn’t have a plan, but rolled around on the ice so much, it was his quickness and compete level that got him to the Hall of Fame. The best never surrender until the light is on. So after the Blue Jackets gave up on Mason, the Flyers invested seven games last spring at the end of his contract to investigate whether the NHL rookie of the year in 2008-9 had irreparably taught himself to give up on the puck.
That was not evident in April, in back of a 2012-13 Flyer team playing out the string, nor in last night’s sleepwalk of a 4-1 preseason loss to the Devils. Mason was left high and dry on a goalmouth jam-in on a two-on-one, a rebound where the nearest Flyer defenseman to scorer Steve Bernier was in Trenton, and by a Dainus Zubrus tip.
“We have to have a better push back,” Mason said. “We had an opportunity to outwork what was the for the most part their whole team and we didn’t do it.”
Sounded like a guy, once accused of not having the work ethic to pull himself from his Columbus doldrums, reaching the required level of maturity to pick up at age 25 where it was misplaced at age 20.
“He has done nothing but work hard,” said Reese. “He battles on every shot and so does Ray (Emery). His teammates love it.”
They also won’t mind the fact that they’ll know where the puck is going from these goalies, as opposed to the last one. Goaltending puckhandling has evolved from a curiosity to a luxury to a necessity, one more reason Mason is getting an opportunity to again become the same guy who in 61 games in 2008-9 went 33-20-7 with a .916 save percentage, a 2.29 goals against average and 10 shutouts.
He still is the only goalie to ever get the Blue Jackets into the playoffs, not that anyone in Columbus remembered that with much fondness as the following years went from bad to worse. His stock had dropped so much by last March that the Flyers, who the previous summer had traded to the Jackets their new No. 1 goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, were able to get Mason for the song of Michael Leighton and a No. 3.
“Maybe it was too much, too fast,” said Reese. “Sometimes when you have success right away, it’s the best thing, it’s almost better to go through some ups and downs.
“Things started to snowball the other way and he couldn’t get out of it.”
Maybe that will turn out to be the biggest break the Flyers ever received in their almost 25-year search for an answer in goal. Or, maybe this will turn out to be just one more guy passing through. They are in the process of learning whether what didn’t kill Mason indeed made him stronger.
“It’s probably true that things happened too fast for me,” he said. “I had a lot of success at a young age at a prominent position on a hockey team and wasn’t able to carry that over.
“It’s nice to be here now and feeling good about myself, an opportunity you don’t want to waste.”
Laviolette says there is no plan for a 40-40 or 60-20 split of the workload, only for a competition designed to make Mason, Emery -- and the Flyers -- better. Such wasn’t the case in 2011-12, when they had two countrymen goalies who resented each other, why Sergei Bobrovsky wound up in Columbus, and ultimately why Mason is here.
“What I like about him tonight was when we weren’t having a lot of composure with the puck, things were turning over and the attempts were coming at him, he stayed in it mentally, was sharp to the end,” said Laviolette.
That didn’t sound like the Steve Mason the Blue Jackets came to know. The Flyers are taking a flier on a new one.
“Most important thing is he needed a change of scenery and people who believed in him again,” said Reese. “I just think it was a time for a change.”
* * * *
Asked if the Flyers effort picked up in the third period, when Matt Read scored on a shorthanded breakaway before the Devils hit the empty net, Laviolette said: “A little, but that’s what I don’t get. We are in an evaluation period, a process for guys to put their cards on the table and I was disappointed in that tonight.” . . . Flyers conclude the pre-season tonight at 7 p.m. in Washington. Game will be televised on the NHL Network.