Tired? Well, Steve Mason certainly is tired of being asked if he is tired. Perhaps, he also is as weary of losing to the Penguins as anybody who has run into that buzzsaw since the beginning of March. But stopping pucks is coming to Mason pretty easily these days, so it’s time to put to rest this whole issue about him needing a rest.
Thanks to hot streaks of four and five games this season by Michal Neuvirth, Mason has played 51 games this season, not 71. To win a Stanley Cup, your goalie goes practically every other night for two months. So save your breath for holding it that someone doesn’t run into Mason, rather than wasting it speculating he might suddenly run out of gas after starting 14 of the last 15 games.
Since Neuvirth was declared out at least until the end of the regular season, there has not been any net below the tightrope for the Flyers, nor will there for the final week. Anthony Stolarz never has played an NHL game, and Ray Emery hasn’t had a regular AHL, let alone NHL, gig this season.
But don’t worry. To keep Mase hydrated, the Flyers have good IVs, Plus, he has fine veins that have had ice water running through them practically all season.
We’re still counting only one clunker from him in 51 contests --four goals on six shots at Florida before being yanked in the second game of the season. That was a long time ago, which means it has taken too long to give this goalie his due for the season he is having, It might be the best performed by a Flyer netminder since Ron Hextall’s rookie year in 1987.
A goals against average like the 1.91 turned in by Brian Boucher argues he had a better season in 1999-2000, but that was in only 41 games, A shutout total like 10 in 2000-01, when Roman Cechmanek also recorded a 2.01 GAA, was statistically impressive, but his flopping style betrayed him in three straight playoffs.
Mason has yet to win a playoff series in a Flyer uniform, but his one try, when he started three games against the Rangers in 2014 late because of an injury, was a pretty good one (1.97, .939), especially for coming in cold. At no time in his three full Flyer seasons has he had an Eric Desjardins or a Mark Howe in front of him and still Mason’s .922 save percentage as a Flyer is right there with Cechmanek’s (.923).
It also is superior to Pelle Lindbergh’s (.899) or Ron Hextall’s (.902) in 1985 and 1987 respectively, seasons fondly and accurately recalled as the best by a Philadelphia goalie since Bernie Parent’s during the two Stanley Cup seasons.
Different game, we know. It is much more structured and defensively coached than back in the day, but, that said, goalies didn’t look through the screens they do now. Besides we’re not trying to declare Mason better than the three best goalies the Flyers ever had, just saying he has been really good since his arrival and has stabilized a position that had been the franchise Achilles heel for 25 years.
“You want to be the guy who changes that,” said Mason. “For whatever reason, they haven’t been able to find that consistent presence between the pipes and that has been one of the things I wanted to be able to give them--somebody they could count on every single game.”
Since Game Two of this season, he has done exactly that. It’s hard to remember the last bad goal Mason has given up. He has been nimble, reliable and now is proving durable. If you thought any of the five he let in on Sunday evening in Pittsburgh were stoppable, then you think it’s always the goalie’s fault.
Game after game Mason -- and Neuvirth -- have give their team a chance to win, which is all you can reasonably expect from your goaltender. Now the Flyers will count on that for four games more, with Mason having provided no reason to believe they are not going to get it.