Steve Mason ready to challenge Ilya Bryzgalov in Flyers camp

Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov admitted that he wore down before the Flyers got Steve Mason on April 3. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov admitted that he wore down before the Flyers got Steve Mason on April 3. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Posted: May 03, 2013

Ilya Bryzgalov, the wannabe cosmonaut who enjoys critiquing journalists in his spare time, cannot be blamed for the Flyers' failure to make the playoffs this season.

The quirky Russian goalie was good, not great, and his overall numbers - a pedestrian 2.79 goals-against average and career-worst .900 save percentage - are somewhat misleading. Because of his team's poor defensive play, Bryzgalov faced an inordinate number of odd-man rushes and breakaways.

Bryzgalov, who will turn 33 next month, was one of the league's true workhorses. During one stretch, he started 31 of 32 games, including 22 straight.

"I wore down," he admitted late in the season.

He wore down, in part, because the Flyers did not have a dependable backup until they acquired Steve Mason on April 3.

Bryzgalov got more rest after Mason arrived, but his numbers in his final seven games were almost identical (2.71, .897) to his overall season.

If the Flyers do not buy out the last seven years of Bryzgalov's contract next month, there will be a spirited battle for the No. 1 spot during training camp.

Coach Peter Laviolette said competition brings out the best in people. Bryzgalov and Mason agree.

In seven games with the Flyers, Mason was great, not good. He had a 1.90 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage.

It was a small sample, but the 24-year-old Mason seems to have regained the mojo he displayed while winning the rookie-of-the-year award after the 2008-09 season.

For a goalie, Mason said, "the entire game is all about confidence."

The 6-foot-4, 217-pounder called the trade that brought him from Columbus for Michael Leighton and a third-round 2015 draft pick a "rebirth" of sorts.

"The last three years in Columbus beat me down, mentally, more than anything else," he said in a phone interview the other day. "There were a lot of expectations we couldn't meet, and you work hard to get them, and we couldn't get results.

"I left the baggage there and got a fresh start."

And maybe - just maybe - he gave the Flyers a glimpse of their future.

As a rookie, Mason had a 2.29 goals-against average and .916 save percentage while recording 10 shutouts.

The next 31/2 years, playing for the lowly Blue Jackets, were a major struggle for Mason, and, in an ironic twist, he lost the job this season to Sergei Bobrovsky, whom the Flyers had dealt to Columbus. Bobrovsky emerged as a leading candidate for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the league's top goalie.

"I just think he needed a change," said goalie coach Jeff Reese, referring to Mason, though the words also fit Bobrovsky's situation. "He's always had the talent."

In his short time with the Flyers, Mason displayed more athleticism than Bryzgalov and seemed to develop a great rapport with Reese, who moved the goalie back in the crease and got quick results.

"If you've never been a goaltender, it seems like a minor adjustment, but it's really a big deal," said Mason, who will turn 25 on May 29 but already has played five NHL seasons. "It makes you be more patient and hold your feet longer and be in a set position, waiting for a shot - instead of turning and the shot is right there. It makes a big difference. Sometimes, I'd be getting there [his spot] before the new player even got the pass. For me, it makes for a much calmer game."

Mason said spending a month with the Flyers was invaluable; it helped him form bonds with teammates and will make training camp a lot smoother.

"Coming here and working with Jeff Reese and getting to know the players was huge," he said. "Everybody made me feel at home. It feels like I've been here a lot longer than I have."

He welcomes a battle for No. 1 with Bryzgalov - if the Flyers don't buy out the veteran.

"I think competition is always a good thing, no matter what position," Mason said. "I'm not sure what will happen, but I'm not worried about it. I'm just excited about the opportunity and want to make the most of it."

In the offseason, he plans to work five days a week with a trainer near his home outside Toronto. "You do everything you can in the summer to make sure you're ready," he said. "I plan to come to Philly early to hit the ground running. I'll probably get here three or four weeks before camp to settle in and talk with Jeff Reese."

If the Flyers knew Mason's late-season stint wasn't a fluke, they probably would use a compliance buyout on Bryzgalov on June 30.

But because Bryzgalov has a better track record than Mason over their careers, the Flyers may keep him as insurance and have the two compete for the starter's spot. If the Flyers did that, they could make a buyout decision after next season.

It all depends, club sources said, on whether a player becomes available in the offseason and the Flyers' need to be freed of Bryzgalov's annual $5.7 million cap hit.


Bryzgalov vs. Mason

In a small sample - seven appearances, including six starts - goalie Steve Mason was lights-out after the Flyers acquired him from Columbus on April 3.

Here are the numbers posted by Mason and starter Ilya Bryzgalov while they played for the Flyers this season, along with their career statistics:

Ilya Bryzgalov

      Goals   Save   

   W-L-OT   against   pct.   

With Flyers this year   19-17-3   2.79   .900   

Career   208-149-45   2.55   .913   

Steve Mason

      Goals   Save   

   W-L-OT   against   pct.   

With Flyers this year   4-2   1.90   .944   

Career   100-101-27   2.87   .905   

- Sam Carchidi


Contact Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @BroadStBull.

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