Flyers' Mason not too caught up in win

Posted: January 30, 2014

GOING INTO the season, everybody pretty much thought that the Flyers' talent level suggested a team that would just make the playoffs or just miss, just in or just out. And so it was last night, when they started the game against the Detroit Red Wings just out of the playoffs and ended the game just in.

Given the crowded elevator that currently houses most of the NHL's Eastern Conference, we had all just better get used to it. Because if this does not go down to the last week of the season, it will be a significant upset.

We had all just better get used to this, too: Goaltender Steve Mason will be a huge part of this, however it goes down. And the most important observation any of us can make at this point is that both Mason and his team do, indeed, have some fight in them.

"There's a lot of confidence in the room," Mason said, after he made 33 saves in the Flyers' 5-0 win over the Red Wings. "It's not overconfidence. We realized, in the last couple of games, that you're not as good as you think you are but you're never as bad as you think you are at the same time. We realize that every game for the remainder of the season is technically a must-win, just because of the standings and how tight they are. You look every single night, and if you're not getting points, you're falling behind."

With about 90 seconds remaining in the game, after another in a series of flashy glove saves, the crowd at the Wells Fargo Center was chanting Mason's name. With about 30 seconds remaining, after still another glove save, there was a kind of hybrid chant that was breaking out all over, half of the people chanting "Let's go, Flyers" and the other half chanting "Let's go, Mason."

He has been about as good as any goaltender in the NHL for a long stretch of this season, and he has been pretty average, and even below average, for another stretch. Against the Red Wings, he was excellent. Mason had some help along the way from a goal post and from the crossbar, but he was sharper than he was fortunate. His save of the night came with 7:25 remaining in the second period, when he slid across and got his pad on a shot by Luke Glendening.

And here is the thing about Mason: He is supremely analytical when he talks about both his team's game and his own game. Even as good and as confident as the Flyers looked against the Red Wings, Mason refused to inflate the importance of one night or ignore the flaws. He said, "I think we have to do a better job, still, of getting out of our zone. With cleaner breakouts, that will take stress off our defensive-zone play and make winning hockey games easier. Tonight, a lot of good things were done."


"You don't make this a bigger thing than it was," he said.

The analytical mindset applies to his own game, too. He doesn't really want to talk much about it - "It's not something I want to keep dwelling on," he said - but when coach Craig Berube said the other day that Mason can sometimes have an issue with his confidence at times, the goaltender did not disagree.

"These games are building blocks," he said. "Over the course of the season, you're going to have ups and downs - it's just a matter of how you come out of it. This is a small step in a bigger picture and that's the way I'm going to take a look at it."

Then, later, he said, "I know exactly when I'm playing well and when I'm not, and when things aren't going well I know exactly what it is in my game that I'm not comfortable with. It's not always a quick fix. It's a difficult game and other guys are allowed to make good plays, and you get bad breaks every now and then, too. It's just a matter of coming to the rink every single day with the same work ethic. And eventually, through that hard work, you're going to get out of a funk."

And so it is with the Flyers as a whole. They started the season terribly, but pulled it together and played 2 really good months. Then they lost four games in a row going into last night and essentially identified the Detroit game as a must-win - and then they won.

You can decry the holes this team digs for itself, and you would not be wrong. It is no way for a team to go about its business if it has real and true championship aspirations. But that isn't the conversation for the Flyers. This is about making the playoffs after missing last season, about overcoming that dreadful start and learning to play coach Craig Berube's more buttoned-up style in what has become an increasingly more buttoned-up NHL.

The Flyers are not good enough to win many games on talent alone - here and there, yes, but not many. That much should be obvious by now. They do not have enough natural scoring ability, or enough overall speed, or enough defensive presence. When the Flyers win games, they do it one of two ways - either the goaltending or the effort has to be superior.

Against the Red Wings, it was a lot of both.


On Twitter: @theidlerich


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