The Flyers play the New York Islanders this evening in — stop me if you’ve heard this before — what is the biggest MUST WIN game of the season to this point. After all, the Islanders currently hold the 8th seed in the East and sit five points ahead of the Flyers, though the Flyers do have a game in hand. Either way, gotta get these two points tonight, and preferably without going to overtime or a shootout so the Islanders can’t get a point of their own.
So, with the season essentially on the line (again), who does Peter Laviolette decide to go with in goal? Why, Steve Mason, of course, he of the perfect third period against Winnipeg! Laviolette rides Ilya Bryzgalov into the ground for nearly three months, and then in an absolute must-win to keep the team’s flickering playoff hopes alive, the coach decides to bench his bell cow and go with an even more enigmatic goalie who was just acquired less than a full week ago. I’m not even a Bryzgalov fan, and I find this quite perplexing. Par for the course for these Flyers, I suppose.
Also, re: Steve Mason. Fans are excited about his “potential” because he won the Calder Trophy four years ago. Dose of reality, courtesy of Chemmy (@felixpotvin on Twitter): In that season, aside from a white-hot December in which Mason posted a .950 SV% in 12 games, he had an overall SV% of .907 in the other 49 games (overall SV%: .916). If you want to see for yourself, here’s the game log. Compare that with his SV% in each season since 2008-2009: .901, .901, .894, .899. So, you tell me, which is the real Steve Mason: The guy who had an incredible December 2008, or the one who has consistently put up SV% numbers hovering around .900 otherwise? If the “But he was playing on terrible Blue Jackets teams!” excuse makes you feel better and more optimistic, fine, but just remember how bad (and now injured) this current Flyers defense is, too. I’m all for giving Mason a chance to resurrect his career, but cool it with the “THIS COULD BE OUR FRANCHISE GOALIE OF THE FUTURE!!!!” nonsense until he, you know, gives us a reason to believe it. He immediately signed a 1-year, $1.5M, “prove it” deal for 2013-2014 with the Flyers when he was due a qualifying offer of $3.2M as a Restricted Free Agent. I don’t see Bryzgalov getting amnestied this offseason (though certainly possible), so it appears as if the Flyers have committed themselves to paying $1.5M to a backup for next season. Um, yay? I kinda get the feeling they’re thinking of employing a Fleury/Vokoun approach similar to what the Penguins have done. We’ll see.
Make no mistake, our real goalie of the future here in Flyerland is Anthony Stolarz, the 6’5″ New Jersey native and 2012 second round pick who’s been tremendous for the OHL’s London Knights since joining the team after a brief stint with Nebraska-Omaha in the NCAA. Speaking of Stolarz, he just pitched a 34-save in the playoffs the other day and garnered praise from Corey Pronman. Let’s get prematurely excited! But seriously, I am excited about the kid. I’m looking for any reason for long-term hope between the pipes, leave me alone. Edit: Oh, wait, the very next game, on the second half of a back-to-back, Stolarz was lit up for four goals and got pulled in the second period. HE SUCKS, WE’RE SCREWED!
One last thing about Steve Mason: Let’s not gloss over the encapsulating irony of the Flyers trading Sergei Bobrovsky to the Blue Jackets, him beating out Mason for the starting job, then the Flyers trading for Mason less than 10 months later and giving him Bobrovsky’s old jersey number. I can’t be the only person who found this highly amusing.
Anyway, go Flyers. The loss to Winnipeg was disheartening and sooooo symbolic of the 2013 season with how things unraveled in the blink of an eye, but don’t forget about the encouraging four-game win streak that preceded it. There’s still 10 games left to sneak into that 7th or 8th (perhaps even 6th) playoff spot; it’s time to hit that reset button one more time and start fresh tonight.