A ho-hum pickup at the 2013 trade deadline, Steve Mason is playing to the expectations that were heightened when he won the 2009 Calder Trophy.
Following a walking dead 1-7-0 start, the Philadelphia Flyers are back among the land of the living in the Eastern Conference, two points behind the eighth-place Rangers with a game in hand. They’ve won eight of 11, have points in 11 of 14 and are serving notice they will be a factor.
None of that is surprising. They boast one of the deepest groups of forwards in the NHL, and in THN’s pre-season predictions, we tabbed the Flyers for third in the Metro Division.
The “aha” is that they’re doing it with goaltending, not in spite of it. The Flyers, renowned for the size of their goaltending scrap heap, are riding a crest powered by Columbus castoff Steve Mason.
Picked up at the 2013 deadline in a murmur of deal, Mason has shone since donning the black and orange. In seven appearances last season after the swap for backup Michael Leighton and a third-round draft pick, he went 4-2-0 with a .944 save percentage.
The strong play was easy to ignore considering the small sample size and Philly’s playoff miss. But the 2009 Calder Trophy winner assembled a terrific first quarter that has him fifth among netminders who’ve played at least half their team’s games, in the same rarefied air as Carey Price, Tukka Rask and another one of this season’s pleasant surprises, Josh Harding.
The 25-year-old has been remarkably consistent. His only blemish this season was the 7-0 debacle against Washington in which he was pulled after three goals, then ultimately returned after Ray Emery was ejected for insanity. Including that game, Mason hasn’t allowed more than three goals in any of his 26 games for the Flyers.
It’s an impressive stat made more startling when you consider how he foundered for the Blue Jackets. In 13 games for Columbus last season, he surrendered four or more goals five times.
And since the Capitals fiasco, Mason has been as brilliant as any stopper in the league, going 6-1-2 with a .945 save percentage.
Mason, whose career trajectory has pointed due south since his rookie-of-the year triumph, credits Flyers goalie coach Jeff Reese with helping tweak little things in his game and reset the space between his ears. The Oakville, Ont., native says he’s better able to focus on the here-and-now and no longer permits an early bad goal affect the rest of his game.
A prime example of that ability came yesterday against Nashville. After allowing Mike Fisher to beat him five-hole in the first period, he was a wall the rest of the game and made an otherworldly save in the shootout on Matt Hendricks to steal a point for his club.
Mason’s heroics have some wondering whether he can play his way into Olympics contention for the No. 3 job. That’s going to be a long shot based on his body of work pre-Pennsylvania, but if Team Canada wants to gamble on a young stopper who’s at the top of his game in the moment, Mason is a viable candidate.