Despite loss, Steve Mason looking strong early in season
Watching Arizona Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith playing in net has long been a study in deep crease positioning, so the casual observer might not have noticed Philadelphia Flyers netminder Steve Mason standing deeper in his net.
Long-time Mason fans likely have noticed, though – he’s played a more conservative positional game since arriving in Philadelphia from the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Saturday night, it may have been the reason the team earned an extra point.
Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol told InGoal that it’s still too early to tell whether scoring is truly up this season, and he’s likely correct. The Flyers certainly started off their Saturday night contest making a strong case for adding to the litany of high-scoring games fans have experienced around the league, though; they allowed the Coyotes to outshoot them by a whopping 10-2 through the first 10 minutes of play, and both sides combined for 65 shots by the end of the contest.
Mason played a conservative game while the team was hemmed in, though, and it made a good bit of difference.
After the game, he was understandably disappointed with the outcome; the Flyers walked away with a 4-3 overtime loss that meant they’d only collect three of a potential four points during their early season West Coast road trip. A quick glove hand and confident positioning, though, kept the team in the game through to an overtime period that almost certainly wouldn’t have been reached without his efforts.
Mason with a great stop on the 2-on-1 chance. pic.twitter.com/JhQtj3t5KB
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) October 16, 2016
There were a lot of good saves made by Mason throughout the game, but let’s take a look at his two-on-one save here. GIF courtesy of the wonderful guys over at Sons of Penn.
Part of the Steve Mason Renaissance has been his comfort playing in better-fitting gear, which improved his timing and ability to read his own rebounds. So too has the Smith-like deeper positioning after first arriving in Philadelphia, but in the past couple of years he has gone back to adjusting his depth situationally, getting off his goal line and taking slightly more ice on certain plays, including getting out to the edges of his crease (but not so far out he can’t recover to the rebound) on rush chances like this one.
Watch him square to the Arizona skater with the puck, comfortably maintaining strong gap control between himself and the puck through the first save. His rebound reaction, though, is just as important; he knows where the second Arizona skater is, and quickly pushes to readjust himself and square to the new potential threat. The puck glides by the second Arizona skater, but the way Mason handled the sequence was reminiscent of much of his play during the game.
His depth on this play is a bit farther out than in the rest of the game, but notice that he’s still conservative in how far out he came on the breakaway; Mason manages to challenge the shooter without coming out far enough to get burned, leaving his heels in the blue paint to start off his backwards glide into the shot. That style, particularly when Philadelphia spent large stretches of the game trapped in their own zone, helped keep the club in the game through to the final minutes.
Future Watch: Post Integration
Mason should hopefully play behind a more effective Flyers defense as the year progresses. A healthy Michael Del Zotto and a more comfortable Ivan Provorov, who is still getting adjusted to play at the NHL level, will solidify Mason’s blue line corps, helping him by limiting the number of back door opportunities for other teams and shrinking the frequency of breakaways against.
Still, Mason will need to face some of the shots that he did allow on Saturday night again in the NHL season – and one of the facets of his game that could use some strengthening would be his post integration play. He was burned on the second goal allowed, when a wraparound approach from Jakob Chychrun and Martin Hanzal resulted in a tally from a loose post seal.
Tough play on a quick wrap off a rush chance with speed, but better coverage along the posts will help elevate Mason’s overall save percentage from good to team-carrying when he needs it to be.