Mason's rising comfort level reflected in strong outings for Flyers

Posted: November 22, 2013

STEVE MASON isn't playing as well as he did in 2008-09, when he was the NHL's rookie of the year.

He's playing better.

"The game's a lot cleaner, more simple," he said. "Generally, [I'm playing] just a better overall game."

Mason had off last night after another sterling performance on Tuesday. His 6-7-2 record does the first quarter of his season no justice. His 2.12 goals-against average and .932 save percentage are better statistical indicators. So is the eye test.

"He's been our best player all year," Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds said. "Without a doubt."

Mason, 25, said coming to Philadelphia in April's trade from Columbus breathed life into his sagging career. Take that, Andrew Bynum and J.D. Drew.

"Coming in with a fresh mindset and into a new environment where I was excited to be around has been huge," said Mason, the anti-Bryz. "The guys really made it easy last year to come in and be part of this team. Right now, I feel like I've been here for 5 years."

The Flyers entered play yesterday in the bottom third in the league in shots on goal, but they are climbing. They had 42 on Tuesday against Ottawa and another 46 last night against Buffalo; both were season highs.

"Earlier in the year, we weren't getting offensive opportunities because we weren't shooting the puck," Simmonds said before last night's 4-1 win over the Sabres. "We were looking for that extra [pass]. But now when we have those shooting lanes, we're shooting the puck a lot more and crashing the net. It's helping us huge."

Jake Voracek credited the Flyers with having better legs. One of Craig Berube's points of emphasis when he took over as coach for Peter Laviolette after the season's third game was getting his players in better shape. Seems to be paying off.

"Sometimes the other team is playing good defense and it's not that easy" to get shots, Voracek said. "But we're skating very well, and if you skate, you're going to create more chances.

"You have a better chance to win if you put 40 pucks on the net than if you put 20."

As Richie Ashburn used to say, "This game's easy, Harry."

Berube and Buffalo's Ted Nolan made history as the first Natives to coach against each other in NHL history. Natives is the Canadian equivalent to what we call Native Americans. Columnist Marcus Hayes penned a terrific story in yesterday's Daily News, which is online at tiny.cc/gxvw6w (use promo code C78S).

Both coaches took over in midseason. Berube is 9-7-2 in his rookie campaign. Nolan is 1-3 this season and wears the interim tag for the Sabres, a team in major transition.

"I'm very happy for Teddy to be back in the NHL," said Berube, who played against Nolan in the minors in the 1980s. "He's a good coach. He'll do a good job there."

Surely, 21st-century parents can relate to this. Nolan said one of his first orders of business was to get the players' attentions once again.

"Good old communication. That's what we have to teach this team," Nolan told the Buffalo News. "We have to get off the iPads and we have to get off texting and we have to say 'hello' and 'how are you?' and 'good morning' and 'I got this guy, you got that guy.' We've got to communicate better."


On Twitter: @EdBarkowitz

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