Inside the Flyers: Mason has been saving grace for Flyers

Steve Mason said his strong finish last April gave him a "positive mind-set" that has carried over.
Steve Mason said his strong finish last April gave him a "positive mind-set" that has carried over. (YONG KIM / Staff)
Posted: November 04, 2013

Flight Plan is what the Flyers are calling their website's chronicling of the season, but Grounded or Breaking Bad would be better titles for the first month.

The team's awful start has masked the contributions of the man behind the mask, Steve Mason.

Mason, in his first full season with the Flyers, has not only been the team's best player, but has been one of the NHL's top goaltenders.

Among goalies who had played at least eight games entering Saturday, Mason was 10th in save percentage (.922) and 11th in goals-against average (2.42).

"He just looks really confident to me. That's the biggest thing - the confidence," Flyers coach Craig Berube said after practice the other day. "He looks big in the net, and he's coming up with huge saves at the right time and keeping us in games."

General manager Paul Holmgren gets criticized for the Flyers' demise and for dealing promising goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who blossomed into the Vezina winner as the league's best goalie last season with Columbus. Holmgren, however, made some amends by acquiring the 6-foot-4, 217-pound Mason from Columbus late last season, dealing goalie Michael Leighton and a third-round draft pick in 2015.

So far, it looks like one of the best trades of the Holmgren era.

Granted, it's not a huge sample, but in 17 games with the Flyers since being acquired last April, Mason has resembled the goalie who was the NHL's rookie of the year in 2008-09.

Mason, 25, said his strong finish last April gave him a "positive mind-set" and carried into this season.

It hasn't been easy staying positive when you consider the type of goal support Mason has received. The Flyers scored two goals or fewer in 11 of their first 12 games this season.

"You just kind of take it in stride, I think," Mason said. "It's all part of the game. Sometimes the offense is going to be there for you, and some nights it's not. I think it's just a matter of staying even-keeled and not getting too high when things are going great and not getting too low when things aren't going your way."

Mason calls his attitude a "maturation process" that comes from getting older and going through some difficult years in Columbus.

"I'm in my sixth year now and 25 years old, and some things you pick up along the way help you stay even-keeled and not get frustrated when things aren't going your way," he said.

After his brilliant rookie season, Mason struggled mightily during his next four years with the mostly woeful Blue Jackets. The trade to the Flyers put him in a better mental state.

"I'm just happy," Mason said when asked to explain his turnaround. "When you come to the rink and are generally excited to be around the guys [it helps your performance]. When things weren't going my way in Columbus, it was a difficult process, a really long process, and it really started to wear on me coming to the rink."

In Columbus, Mason didn't get results despite putting in extra time at practices. He started to overthink things, and his confidence disappeared.

The trade cleared his head, and goalie coach Jeff Reese made a few adjustments - most notably, moving him back in the crease - that have Mason looking like the Flyers' goaltender of the future.

"I pretty much have a new mind-set and left all that baggage in Columbus," Mason said. "In this sport, you don't get too many second chances, and when you're lucky enough to have one, that's when you want to make the most of them."

Mason will be a restricted free agent after the season. But if he continues to excel, look for the Flyers to open negotiations on a long-term deal in a few months.

"The game just seems very, very simple for me right now," Mason said, "and that's exactly what Reeser [Reese] had envisioned for me when I was coming here - just to simplify things and utilize my size. Right now, I feel great out there."

Many goalies don't get to the league until they are 25. At that age, Mason already has six years of NHL experience and, because of his ups and downs in Columbus, he doesn't take anything for granted.

"The goaltender coach in Columbus, Ian Clark, kept telling me, 'You're going to be better for this when you can get out of it and finally find your game again,' " Mason said. "I didn't believe him at the time."

He does now.


scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull

www.inquirer.com/

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