PHILADELPHIA -- It will be an emotional game Thursday night for Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Steve Mason, who will face his former team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, for the first time.
Mason was a third-round pick in the 2006 NHL Draft (No. 69) of the Blue Jackets and spent his first five NHL seasons in Columbus. As a rookie in 2008-09 he backstopped the Blue Jackets to the franchise's only berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and won the Calder Trophy as the League's best rookie.
He never reached that level of play again, however. While his physical skills didn't diminish much, RJ Umberger, Mason's teammate and roommate for five years with the Blue Jackets, said the raised expectations began to affect the goaltender mentally.
"He almost hurt himself by having such a great rookie year," Umberger said. "He brought us into the playoffs [then] he struggled with trying to find his game in his own head. He had a lot of different tweaks, a lot of different people working with him. It became too much for him."
Umberger said the March trade that sent Mason to Philadelphia was a necessary move.
"He's a guy that's playing like he has that confidence he had in his rookie year," Umberger said. "We always talked about his poise his rookie year, how a kid so young is so poised. He looks like that now with his confidence. He's having fun."
Umberger said he hoped to have some fun at his former teammates' expense.
"I'm going to try to make his life miserable," Umberger said. "I'm going to be in that crease all night. ... It's going to be a battle. I'd like to get a couple on him."
Obviously most of the Blue Jackets players know where and how to shoot on Mason, but Columbus coach Todd Richards said that information runs both ways.
"You're familiar with him, you know his style and strengths and weaknesses," Richards said. "But I know he knows our shooters too. He's familiar with them. He's familiar with our systems and how we talk, what we want to accomplish. We may have a book on him but he's got pages on each guy and our team."
The Blue Jackets will have Curtis McElhinney back in net after he missed the past two games with a lower-body injury. He's the first player from a long injury list to return. Richards said the plan is for forward Marian Gaborik, out a month with a knee injury, and defenseman James Wisniewski, who has missed two weeks with an upper-body injury, to play Saturday against the Flyers. And forward Nathan Horton, who hasn't played yet while recovering from shoulder surgery, is expected to return not long after the Christmas break.
"There's some good presents," Richards said.
For the Flyers, Brayden Schenn will play Thursday, one game after sitting out the third period of a game Tuesday against the Washington Capitals after he was hit face-first into the boards by forward Tom Wilson.
Schenn said he did not sustain a concussion and the only issues he has is some soreness in his neck and upper back. He was a full participant in the team's morning skate.
"I feel good," he said. "The trainers did a good job of getting me loose and feeling good. ... I'm going to be sore for probably another couple days or a week. When you have an impact like that the whole body has to get realigned or adjusted. There's a little stiffness but I feel good. My head's good, that's the main thing. Just upper back and neck, noting more than a little stiffness."
After watching replays of the hit, Schenn said he knows how lucky he is to be able to play again so soon.
"I feel blessed and lucky that nothing happened," he said. "I don't think I've ever gone head-first into the board without putting my shoulder, elbow, something in the way first. I got real lucky on that play."
Here are the projected lineups for the Blue Jackets and Flyers:
Nick Foligno - Ryan Johansen - RJ Umberger
Matt Calvert - Brandon Dubinsky - Cam Atkinson
Boone Jenner - Artem Anisimov - Blake Comeau
Corey Tropp - Mark Letestu - Jack Skille
Fedor Tyutin - Jack Johnson
David Savard - Ryan Murray
Nikita Nikitin - Tim Erixon
Injured: Nathan Horton (shoulder), Marian Gaborik (knee), James Wisniewski (upper body), Cody Bass (thumb), Jared Boll (ankle), Derek MacKenzie (lower body), Dalton Prout (lower body), Sergei Bobrovsky (groin)
Michael Raffl - Claude Giroux - Jakub Voracek
Scott Hartnell - Brayden Schenn - Wayne Simmonds
Matt Read - Sean Couturier - Steve Downie
Zac Rinaldo - Chris VandeVelde - Adam Hall
Kimmo Timonen - Braydon Coburn
Mark Streit - Nicklas Grossmann
Erik Gustafsson - Luke Schenn
Scratched: Jay Rosehill, Hal Gill, Andrej Meszaros
Injured: Vincent Lecavalier (back)