BUFFALO – Steve Mason.
If you’re looking for a positive from the Flyers 1-0 loss to the Sabres Satuday, it would be their goalie.
Mason only had to make 20 saves, but it certainly seemed like most of them came on high percentage chances by the Sabres and the lone goal he allowed was of the flukey variety.
As for the rest of the game – well there wasn’t much to say.
The Flyers were shutout by the Sabres for the first time since 1998 and have now only scored three goals in the last four games.
No one has answers as to why – except maybe Danny Briere, who nearly tied it with one second to play only to have his shot ring off the crossbar.
“It’s not just that we’re not scoring goals,” Briere said. “Our chances are way down. We’re not moving the puck very well in the offensive zone. I don’t know if we’re trying to hold onto it because we don’t trust each other or what’s going on.
“People will say it’s because we lose battles offensively, but I don’t think we’re losing battles. We’re strong and we’re holding onto pucks, but we’re holding on too long. We should be taking one hit, spinning off and moving the puck instead of holding on for a second or third time. That limits our offense I feel.”
Enough about that though… let’s focus on Mason.
Getting his second start as a Flyer, Mason was the reason the game was even close today.
Whether it was stopping Cody Hodgson on a 2-on-1, or thwarting Drew Stafford on a post-to-post move, or flashing the glove with quick lateral movement to stone Thomas Vanek, Mason was superb in net for the Flyers.
In just seven periods of action for the Flyers, Mason has stopped 57 of 61 shots for a .934 save percentage.
And when you consider the four goals he allowed occurred on a defensive breakdown, through a screen by his own defenseman, an own goal by yet another defenseman and the one today – that took a strange hop off the back boards and hit the back of his skate and went in – you realize just how close he’s been to perfect in that time frame.
“There is still a learning curve and things I want to improve upon,” Mason said. “But the start so far, with the exception of not getting wins, I’ve been comfortable with.
“No goaltender should be satisfied being a No. 2 goaltender in this league. I certainly am not. It’s my goal for the rest of this season, going into the summer time and going into next season is to become a No. 1 goaltender again. I’m 24-years-old and I know there’s a lot of time ahead, but I won’t be happy until I get back to a level that I’m comfortable playing at.”
It’s a good bet now that the Flyers are likely seven games from the end of their season that Mason will get that chance to show that he can be that player again.
He’s impressed everyone in his brief time so far.
There’s his coach:
“He played well,” Peter Laviolette said. “Especially in the second period. There was a couple breakdowns – odd man rushes that came his way – and he did a great job.”
There are his teammates:
“ I really like his work,” Briere said. “He moves really well. He really gave us a chance to win tonight. He had an unfortunate bounce [on the goal] but in the second period we gave up four 2-on-1’s and that’s trouble usually – and he was able to keep them all out.”
And then there’s his general manager:
“This is the first time I’ve seen him live with our team,” said Paul Holmgren. “It’s unfortunate that they got the goal that they did because I thought he played good.”
He played well enough to win, but the Flyers couldn’t generate any offense for him, and when you lose four in a row as the season winds down to it’s bitter ending, the only positives you can take is the ones from the players who you are evaluating for next year.
And so far, Mason, who signed a one-year extension last week, has passed with flying colors.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter@ AnthonySan37