It’s only logical. Just look at their similarities: it’s basically the same team assembled by the same management playing in front of them. Briere has been replaced by Lecavalier and Streit was added, and other than that the players are intact. Heck, the defense is as healthy as it’s been in years! On the management side, coach Peter Laviolette and assistant Kevin McCarthy were subtracted, but Ed Snider, Paul Holmgren, Craig Berube, and goaltending coach Jeff Reese remain, and Reese was once responsible for shaping Bryzgalov into a better goaltender!
The similarities don’t stop there: the Flyers are still losing games in the third period. In 11 of their 25 losses last season, the Flyers were either leading or tied going into the third stanza, good for 44% of their losing efforts. So this season they’ve only surrendered a lead or a tie in 2 of 6, or 33% of their losing efforts. They’ve also been outscored 10-2 in third periods so far this year. Is that all Steve Mason’s fault?
And the similarities keep coming: the team still has the same difficulties scoring reliably. Last season the Flyers scored two or less goals in 29 of their 48 games, a whopping 60%. In the first eight games of their last campaign, they only scored more than two once, and that was a 7-1 blowout against the Florida Panthers. This season, the Flyers have yet to top two goals in 100% of their games. Is that all Steve Mason’s fault?
There is one big difference between Steve Mason and Bryzgalov, and it has nothing to do with statistics: the media loved to point out what a headcase Bryzgalov was.
Why? It was great press. Nothing better to increase circulation in the sports world than an eccentric player. Plus, he has a Russian accent, and sometimes he uses words wrong or doesn’t understand questions! What a buffoon! How dare he have a personality more interesting than some other players in the league, who mumble the same monotone sound bites to the same inane questions… namely all of them! How dare he steal $52 million dollars from the Flyers management and refuse to dress for games! What was he thinking when he called Philadelphia a slum city, said its occupants just want to collect welfare gleaned from tax hikes on the rich, and claims to appreciate Stalin and Communism! Wait, that last one actually happened.
As it turns out, the opinion that the people of Philadelphia don’t want to work and just want to siphon funds from the wealthy may not be far removed from the political slant of owner Ed Snider. And you know what else the article leaves out? Sources. The alleged original interview doesn’t exist on the website. And according to the translation, he claims to understand Stalin’s actions. Much like filmmaker Lars Von Trier was done in by the media for saying he understood Hitler’s actions; understanding is not the same thing as condoning, folks, and if you believe otherwise, understanding what happened during the Holocaust qualifies you as a psychopath.
Back to Bryzgalov. Do you know what else was left out of the news the same week he supposedly trashed Philly? Another interview with a Russian newspaper where Bryzgalov praises Philadelphia’s museums while excoriating the media. Funny that the press in Philadelphia didn’t pick that one up.
After they were done having fun at Bryzgalov’s expense, the Philly media started making up and propagating stories about his locker room antics, like falling asleep in a team meeting and twisting his words to make it seem like he didn’t want to play in Philadelphia anymore. So, with months of the local media helpfully pointing fingers at Ilya Bryzgalov as the reason for the Flyers woes and generally being a terrible human being, the mercurial Russian was shown the door in favor of Steve Mason, who turned in a great seven games. Fall on your knees and hear the angel voices, for they herald the arrival of the almighty!
I can’t help but dip into the past here: Once upon a time, Michael Leighton had the best series a Flyers goaltender has ever had against the Montreal Canadiens in the 2010 playoffs with a 1.41 GAA, .950 save percentage and three shutouts in an outstanding sample set of five games! For an encore, he piled up a 3.96 GAA and .876 save percentage, not to mention contributing to the least highlight-worthy end to a Stanley Cups Finals in the history of the sport. Leighton would go on to play exactly two more NHL games.
Now, Steve Mason is in the same position Bryzgalov was in last season. History records that Bryzgalov skated out of the crease naked and shot pucks into his vacated net while flipping off the Liberty Bell and quoting Tarkovsky’s Solaris during the entirety of the 2012-2013 season, but in the first five games he had two wins, a 2.21 GAA, and a .923 save percentage. Through five games this year, Mason carries one win, a 2.23 GAA, .926 save percentage.
Is Steve Mason as likely to blow up in the spotlight? Not likely. But if Mason’s gaffe in this most recent game were committed by the big Russian, you’d better believe the cult of Bryzgalov would have lapped it up and barfed it out faster than the Flyers’ lead was erased.
Obviously I’m making light of the situation, but what is serious is that the Flyers’ woes lie not in the net, but far above in the front office. The Flyers have used 15 goalies in the last 10 years alone, a span where a grand total of two general managers have overseen the on-ice affairs. The team’s recent problems on defense started with Chris Pronger’s injury. The team’s recent problems scoring seem to have coincided with the removal of Jaromir Jagr from the lineup. The team’s recent problems in the net simply aren’t recent; they’ve plagued the team since Ron Hextall was suspended for beating up Chris Chelios.
Here’s an idea that hasn’t been tried; why not bring a goalie up through the system, be patient with his development, and give him time to adjust to the team’s players and style of play? Who knows what would happen?
This much is certain: the results couldn’t be much worse.