Canada should make Mason an Olympian

Posted: November 29, 2013

IT COULD BE a lot worse.

The Flyers are two games under .500, thanks to their two-game collapse in Florida this week. Their overconfident road trip brought the Flyers back to earth after a 6-0-1 run rocketed them up the standings.

Still, the Flyers had a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving, as they moved past the quarter-pole in this 82-game roller-coaster.

We could be counting ping-pong balls by now. Instead, the Flyers would have moved into a tie for a playoff spot with a win on Wednesday night.

They've had an auspicious schedule - and a weak Metropolitan Division schedule - to thank for that. The Flyers have posted a 7-4-2 record this month against opponents with a combined winning percentage of .400 (112-135-33). They only played two teams with a decidedly winning record - Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay - and beat one of them. Their loss in Tampa Bay was entirely winnable, without Steven Stamkos and facing the Lightning's backup goaltender.

They have new coach Craig Berube to thank for that. Berube, 47, has pushed the Flyers to a 10-9-2 record since he took over. He has them playing a defensively conscious style that has cutdown on turnovers and odd-man rushes, which has kept the Flyers either leading, tied or trailing by one goal at the start of the third period in 18 of his first 21 games as a head coach.

Most importantly, the Flyers have Steve Mason to thank for their chance to avoid missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

For that, Mason deserves to be included in the discussion for Canada's Olympic team - a thought that would have been a punchline for Canadians as recently as August, when five other goaltenders were invited to Calgary for the team's orientation camp.

Mason, 25, has resurrected his career and played at the level that earned him a Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year in 2009.

Hockey Canada GM Steve Yzerman was not available for comment this week on Mason when the Flyers were in Tampa Bay.

Goaltending will be Yzerman's toughest question as he assembles a roster fit to make a bid to defend their gold medal in Sochi in 3 months. That's something United States counterpart David Poile can't say, as they're solid with whomever they pick out of Jonathan Quick, Jimmy Howard, Ryan Miller, Craig Anderson and Cory Schneider. Tampa Bay's Ben Bishop wasn't invited and he has been one of the best goalies in the league this season.

Canada's goaltending situation is much more wide-open. And outside of Montreal's Carey Price, no one has stolen the show to completely lock up a spot on the roster.

Remember, this was a Hockey Canada Olympic camp in which gold-medal winner Martin Brodeur and Stanley Cup winner Marc-Andre Fleury were left off the list.

No one is as battle tested - in both nail-biting situations and on the Olympic-sized ice sheet - as Roberto Luongo. He figures to be on the roster, after helping Canada to that unforgettable gold in Vancouver 4 years ago.

That leaves the third and final spot up for grabs. And to start the season, Mason has played significantly better than Mike Smith, Braden Holtby and even Corey Crawford - who were all on Canada's original list. Look up their stats.

Unlike All-Star games or all-time teams, the Olympics aren't as much about body of work or resume of participants. If that were the case, Mason wouldn't even be given consideration, lost in the abyss of Ohio the last four seasons. But the Olympics are about who is playing hottest leading up to the 3-week tournament.

Sure, that means you could also make a case for inspirational story Josh Harding or even the veteran Brodeur.

But no goaltender has done more with less in front of him this season. Some games, his teammates have looked completely disinterested. Others, they've blown leads in the third period with boneheaded plays or penalties. Mason still has not allowed more than three goals in one game since joining the Flyers last April, a string of 24 appearances.

Crawford, Holtby and Smith have less impressive numbers - but obviously better records - with top-10 offenses in front of them. The Blackhawks (3.54), Capitals (2.84) and Coyotes (3.16) all provide significant goal support compared to what Mason has received (2.17) this year. Mason also has won a gold medal for Canada before at the 2008 World Junior Championships.

The Olympic rosters will be announced on Jan. 7, with the United States being the first to unveil their team on Jan. 1 during the Winter Classic. Mason at least deserves to be included in the discussion for a seat at the table. The Flyers would be cooked without him.

STAT WATCH

4: Times the Flyers have failed to collect a point in a swing through Florida: Feb. 24-26, 1999; Oct. 19-20, 2006; Oct. 24-25, 2007; Nov. 25-27, 2013.

0-3: Flyers’ mark on penalty-shot attempts this season. They have been given three chances in their first 24 games when they’ve averaged exactly one per season prior to this year (46).

INJURY UPDATE

Matt Read remains day-to-day with a lower-body injury. He is possible to play today after being a game-time decision in Tampa Bay on Wednesday.

THE WEEK AHEAD

Flyers vs. Winnipeg

Today, 11:30 a.m.

The Flyers host the NHL’s only morning game in the Eastern time zone this season against the Jets, who are in the middle of a six-game road swing. The Jets up-ended the Flyers, 3-2, with a comeback shootout win 2 weeks ago at MTS Centre. Winnipeg is without Jim Slater, Paul Postma and Zach Bogosian. This is the Flyers’ last home game until Dec. 12.

  Flyers at Nashville

Tomorrow, 8 o’clock

Figure on a low scoring game when the Flyers make their only trip of the year to Nashville. They are 1-3-1 against the Western Conference this season. Nashville hosted Edmonton last night on Thanksgiving, coming off a recent 17-day road trip. The Predators (fifth in Central) have held up relatively well in the standings without goaltender Pekka Rinne (hip surgery).

Flyers at Minnesota

Monday, 8 o’clock

This marks the Flyers’ first trip to St. Paul, Minn., since Nov. 24, 2010 — a 6-1 win against the Wild. The Flyers are 2-2-1 all-time at Xcel Energy Center. It is the arena where the Flyers drafted forward Sean Couturier on June 24, 2011. Leading scorer Zach Parise (bruised foot) is likely to be back in the lineup by then. Parise has 36 points in 40 career games against the Flyers.

Flyers at Detroit

Wednesday, 8 o’clock

The Red Wings have not lost a game in regulation to the Metropolitan Division (4-0-3) since moving over to the Eastern Conference this season. Wednesday would be a good time for the Flyers to break the streak on national television. The Flyers lost their first trip to Joe Louis Arena this season, 5-2, back on Oct. 12.


On Twitter: @DNFlyers

Blog: ph.ly/FrequentFlyers

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