PHILADELPHIA – Last season, Steve Mason came to Philadelphia at the trade deadline, started seven games and played superb in goal.
It was quickly advised, by pundits and fans alike to temper the excitement of his performance because it was such a small sample size.
And they weren’t wrong. It would have been foolish to push all the chips to the center of the table on a goalie who had several consecutive subpar seasons – albeit for a bad team – just because he once was touted as a top goaltending prospect, won the Calder Trophy in his rookie season and now played a series of non-pressurized games for a new team and looked good.
In short, the jury would be out until the following season.
Well, here we are, in the new season, and Mason has picked up right where he left off.
|If MVP awards were handed out every four games, Steve Mason would be the first recipient this season for the Flyers. |
Sure, it’s been only three games – yet another small sample size – but so far, he’s been the Flyers best player. A 2.02 goals against average, a save percentage of .935, and finally, the first win of the season in new coach Craig Berube’s debut, 2-1 over Florida where he had to make 31 saves.
Once again, the pundits and cautious fans will tell you it’s too soon to get really excited about Mason, and once again they’re correct.
But it’s definitely fair to say that if he keeps putting together these blocks of games where he plays at such a high level, even if only viewed in small snippets like the seven games last season, or the three starts so far this season, well, then eventually those preaching that this is a cautionary tale will have to give in that maybe it’s more than that.
Because after all, a series of small samples eventually have to add up to a larger sample, no?
Until then though, Mason is just going to keep his head down and say all the right things, maintaining his simplified, singular focus that has brought on this mild success in little clusters of games.
“Part of the position is coming up big on key opportunities,” Mason said. “There were a couple saves there that needed to be made in order to preserve the lead and just moving forward it’s something to build off of and, you know, I’m feeling good about that right now.”
And he’s not alone.
For the Flyers needed him to come in and stem the negative tide that had been rolling through the first three games of the season – all losses that resulted in a coaching change – allowing for Berube to not only rebuild a crumbling team confidence but to buy him the necessary time to fix what is ailing the team.
“He was great,” Berube said. “He played a good game. He made some big saves when we needed them. “He had composure in net. He looked real solid. He was on top of things. He saw all the pucks. He was just solid and looked big in net.”
Never was he bigger than on a flurry of chances by Florida late in the first period, making back-to-back kick saves on Alexsander Barkov and Ryan Whitney to keep Florida scoreless at the time.
“We have seen that at the end of last year and he’s been playing great so far this year,” said Brayden Schenn, who scored his second goal of the season in the win. “We just haven’t been able to score for him and it’s nice to get the win for him. He made some key saves in there.
“It could have been a different hockey game if he didn’t have the game that he had.”
And that’s what the Flyers hoped Mason could come in and provide – a stabilizing force in goal, something that has been missing for some time with the Flyers organization, especially one that is in flux as far as systems go.
“You know that is something that Reeser [Jeff Reese] and I talked about before and it was just to be ready,” Mason said. “It’s a new system and things aren’t going to be coming easy right away especially without a real practice under our belts yet so it was something I was prepared for, but at the same time I’ve said it before, it’s all part of the position just to come up at key times.”
|A lot of Mason's early success with the Flyers have been based on composure in the net, something that got away from him in Columbus. |
And Mason is honored that Berube believes in him as much as his goalie coach Jeff Reese does.
“You know, regardless of what game it is, if you’re going in there that means the coach has confidence [in you],” Mason said. “And to get the back-to-back starts and be able to finally get the first win out of the way is definitely nice, but at the same time it’s just one game out of the whole schedule so it’s something to build off of, but it’s a small thing in a big picture, you know?”
Small parts of a big picture. Small sample sizes. Small steps toward a larger goal. When it comes to such simple analytics, Mason seems to shine – and he’s hoping to continue to build his Flyers resume one small piece at a time.
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