Mason building a strong foundation

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Steve Mason finds it easier to focus if he breaks the game down into segments.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Steve Mason finds it easier to focus if he breaks the game down into segments.
Posted: October 11, 2013

WHEN STEVE Mason arrived in Philadelphia last April at the trade deadline and ran off seven spectacular appearances, nearly everyone surrounding the Flyers was cautioned to consider the sample size.

After all, Mason had three-plus seasons worth of unattractive data in Columbus to support a claim that he lost the wherewithal to be an NHL starter.

Even the impetuous Flyers subscribed to the theory, signing Mason to just a 1-year contract to investigate exactly what they had acquired.

For most NHL goaltenders, especially one desperate to dispatch years worth of turbulence on his resume, the "sample-size" warning would have been infuriating.

Not for Mason. Instead, Mason judges nearly everything he does now with the Flyers based on small samples.

Forget an entire season. Or even a week of a season. Mason has the innards of every game broken down into segments. Rather than look at a start as a 2 1/2-hour exercise, Mason said he focuses on chunks of time between television timeouts.

In the NHL, television timeouts are taken after a stoppage when time creeps below the 14-, 10- and 6-minute marks in each 20-minute period. The only exceptions for a television timeout in those instances is when one team is on a power play, immediately after a goal or an icing infraction.

For Mason, that works out to roughly 7 minutes of action at a time. It's no different than a boxer training for 3 minutes of intensity, followed by a short respite.

"I find it more manageable that way," Mason explained. "A 60-minute game is a long time to be focused for, especially in the goaltending position where you can be busy for a while and then standing for a while. You have your 7 minutes of focus, then you go to the bench, you get a drink, and you refocus after that.

"It actually makes the game seem a bit shorter, too."

Mason, 25, said he began testing his television-timeouts theory last season with the Flyers. So far, it has paid off. To say Mason is the Flyers' best player so far this season is not an opinion, it is an absolute.

"He's really in the zone," defenseman Mark Streit said. "He's kept us in the games, he's playing really well. He's calm."

Mason has stopped 87 of 93 shots for a .935 save percentage and 2.02 goals-against average this year. His overall sample size is getting smaller. In all, he has a .941 save percentage and 1.94 goals against-average in 10 appearances since the trade.

"He's been solid," coach Craig Berube said. "His composure in net. He's right on top of things. He saw all of the pucks. He's just been solid."

Mason felt the shift in focus was necessary. In Columbus, where many believe the Blue Jackets gave up on the Calder Trophy winner, Mason found himself looking ahead too often.

"In years past, if we were playing a tough opponent, say if we had Detroit, I might look ahead to where we were playing them on the schedule and it might have swayed my confidence on who we were playing next," Mason said. "It's something I don't even think about anymore. Regardless a top team or a perceived bottom team, my job is to do the same thing."

Mason's career stats bear out his theory. Against the Red Wings, the Blue Jackets' biggest thorn since their inception, Mason was 8-10-2 with a .917 save percentage and 2.84 GAA. That's impressive, considering the gaunt lineup Mason usually had in front of him. The Flyers are in Detroit tomorrow night.

But against the lowly Edmonton Oilers, a frequent Western Conference opponent when the Blue Jackets were in the West, Mason was just 5-4-0 with a .855 save percentage and 4.09 GAA. The Oilers haven't made the playoffs since Mason has been in the NHL.

Interestingly, Mason has come up with this on his own. He dealt with a sports psychologist in Columbus but "found it wasn't for me."

"It's something that with my experience in the league, and getting older, it's helped me not getting too far ahead of myself," Mason said. "When you take it day-by-day, things are more manageable. My sports psychologist is [goaltending coach] Jeff Reese. He's a real calming influence in terms of keeping a positive mindset."

Mason's applied theory has made everything else - like the ridiculous questions about a No. 1 goaltender four games into a season - simply background noise. And he doesn't mind that the small samples are quickly adding up to a larger, new portfolio.

"I feel really confident with my game," Mason said. "It was nice to be able to come in here last season and build a foundation. I'm just making sure that each day I'm trying to get better."

Kimmo Timonen has not addressed the media since the coaching change, though he was one of the outspoken players for the Flyers becoming a better skating team. Timonen, 38, has four minor penalties in four games, two of which have cost the Flyers goals against . . . Read more on Frequent Flyers today about the uptick in tempo at practice under Craig Berube . . . Former Phantoms defenseman John Slaney, who was team captain and spent part of seven seasons with the franchise, will be inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame.


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