Really, not anyone even deserved consideration after a 3-8-0 start, the slowest start in franchise history through 11 games.
Frankly, it’s hard to come up with three stars of the month of October on the team, never mind league-wide candidacy.
If I had to, I’d name Sean Couturier No. 3 for his fine work as a shutdown center against the top lines of the opposition, his excellent work on a Top 10 penalty kill, and his vastly improved faceoff abilities.
Vinny Lecavalier would be No. 2 for his influx of offense on a team that has really struggled to find any.
As for No. 1, well that’s a bit of a no brainer. Because the Flyers might not have a win this season were it not for Steve Mason – and it’s a shame that he’s flown under the radar nationally.
|Don't look now, but Steve Mason is quietly becoming one of the best statistical goaltenders in the NHL. |
That’s not saying Mason deserved consideration for the three stars in the league, but maybe he deserves a little more love considering the Flyers may actually have found a goalie.
Now, I don’t want to jump to conclusions. After all, I pointed out that when dealing with Mason, you have to look at it in smaller samples rather than a big picture.
I’ve also been on record as saying that all the hubbub about the Vezina-winning season of Sergei Bobrovsky was a bit premature and that we needed more time to see if the former Flyer, current Blue Jacket was actually a top notch goalie in the NHL.
So, by that standard, we also need more time to see if the former Blue Jacket, now Flyers savior, can keep up the pace he has set for himself.
But for now, it’s a pretty darn good pace.
So far, 20 goalies in the NHL have played 500 minutes or more this season. That is a monthly number emblematic of a true starting goalie and not a guy splitting time or backing up against easier competition.
Of those 20 goalies, Mason ranks seventh in goals against average at 2.25 and fourth in save percentage at .928.
You have to go back to Roman Cechmanek (2002-03) to find a Flyers goalie who situated himself that high in those league-wide statistics.
And, Mason's numbers since joining the Flyers are even better. In 16 games, Mason has a 2.11 GAA and a .935 save percentage.
So, what happened? What changed? How did he go from being a guy who couldn’t figure out what was wrong in Columbus to being the best and most reliable player on another team, basically overnight?
“I’m just happy,” Mason said, in a very revealing interview. “When I come to the rink I’m just generally excited to come and be around the guys. When things weren’t going my way in Columbus it was a difficult process and a really long process and it started to wear on me. Coming to the rink was more of a chore and it shouldn’t be. Hockey should be fun. When you go to the rink and you treat it as a chore, that’s when you start to struggle and really fight things.
“So, coming here and having a whole new opportunity and having a new mindset and leaving all that extra baggage in Columbus and being able to come here was something I wanted to make the most of. In this sport, you don’t get too many second chances, so when you do and you’re lucky enough to have one, you have to make the most of it.”
And Mason has. In what was thought to be an area of concern coming into the season, a place where two goalies were going to battle for playing time, Mason has quickly ended all debate as to who between he and Ray Emery should be the starting goalie for the Flyers.
“Ray’s been great and I’ll be the same way when he gets in there,” Mason said. “Regardless of who’s playing the games we have a real positive relationship. When he’s out there on the ice working, I’m always watching and trying to focus on what he’s doing to see if there’s anything that can help my game, maybe I can utilize it. His personality and his mindset has been great. He’s real upbeat. That’s what you would hope for from a guy who hasn’t played and when he gets in there, everyone is going to rally around him as well.”
It wasn’t always rainbows and lollipops for Mason though in that regard. He didn’t handle it well when Columbus
|Mason and Ray Emery have made a perfect tandem, one which is tight night and in constant support of one another. |
traded for Bobrovsky and then eventually handed him Mason’s job.
Mason felt pressure in a bad situation, and didn’t deal with it well.
“When you have expectations for yourself and the organization has expectations and you’re not able to [meet them] it’s a real frustrating process,” he said. “There were a lot of extra hours put into practicing and trying to find the solutions. Sometimes you overthink things. You begin to question yourself as to why things didn’t turn around.
“I think it worked out great for both sides though. With Columbus having [Bobrovsky] there now, they’re happy with him and I’m happy here.”
And despite the adversity of a bad start by the Flyers, Mason isn’t pressing these days, as he did in Columbus. Instead, he’s just continuing to follow his daily regiment, which includes a one-on-one session with goalie coach Jeff Reese for about 30 minutes prior to practice each day, and hoping that the rest of his teammates can find the same success in what they’re working through that he has in goal to make the Flyers a better team than their record would indicate.
“You just come to the rink every single day with the same mindset whether things are going your way or not,” Mason said. “Right now it’s a difficult time with us not winning, but my preparation wouldn’t change if we were winning. That’s one thing that brings consistent play – if you come to the rink every day and treat each practice the same way.
“The game just seems very simple for me right now. That’s what [Reese] had envisioned for me when I came here – simplify things and utilize my size. Right now I feel great out there. All the preparation we put into practice is to make sure that it stays that way.”
And ultimately, it’s all about confidence – and maintaining a healthy level of it at all times.
“I really do believe that – the goalie coach in Columbus Ian Clark kept telling me, ‘You are going to be better for this when you get out of it and find your game again,’” Mason said. “I didn’t believe it at the time, but now that I’m starting to see some positive results, it’s a nice feeling. The old saying, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ is true.
“I started questioning myself the last couple seasons and when you are going through that as a goaltender, that’s not a good position to be in. You are going out there without any confidence. To come in here and feel like I can control things out there with a general sense of confidence is a good feeling.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers