As Flyers' season winds down, big questions loom about Steve Mason

As Flyers' season winds down, big questions loom about Steve Mason

Perhaps the biggest issue Flyers general manager Ron Hextall must address this offseason is what to do about his goaltending.

The fact that he re-signed Michal Neuvirth over Steve Mason doesn't mean diddly.

The oft-injured Neuvirth came at a bargain price. He can be dangled in the expansion draft so the club doesn't have to expose young prospect Anthony Stolarz.

The more intriguing question is what to do with Mason, who earned $4.1 million this season, but like Neuvirth didn't live up to expectations.

Remember, there is a growing stockpile of goalies in the Flyers' system.

In this final week of the season, Mason's overall numbers -- 2.67 goals-against average and .908 save percentage -- don't get you into the playoffs, even with 25 wins. His GAA and save percentage are his poorest since 2011-12 with Columbus (3.39, .894).

Yet, if you look into his last 16 games, Mason is 9-5-2 with a 2.15 GAA and .933 save percentage on a terribly inconsistent club that has underachieved. Those numbers are very good, especially viewed in that light.

Now here's the rub: You can make a case that Mason has been able to do that because the Flyers were pretty much out of the wild-card race -- realistically, not mathematically -- once March began, and the pressure wasn't as great.

A number of players have said that over the last three weeks, as it became clearer the uphill battle was out of their own hands. It also became easier to relax and just go out and play and leave things to fate.

Players universally play better in any sport when pressure is removed.

There are some other things to consider. During his five seasons with the Flyers, Mason has given pause more than once as to whether he has the mental fortitude to overcome the bad. He's been healthy this year and yet his numbers have been subpar.

In trying to ascertain whether to re-sign him -- at a discounted price -- Hextall has to ask himself which goalie is he getting?

Is it Mason from 2013-14, who won 33 games with a 2.50 GAA and .917 save percentage and had excellent numbers in the postseason (1.97, .939) despite losing?

Or is it the Mason of the last two years, who has been inconsistent, having a terrible playoff series (4.09, .852) against Washington last spring?

One more thing: During his tenure here, Mason has been very vocal, very critical, often very honest in his postgame appraisal of the Flyers. That doesn't sit well with a number of players in the dressing room.

Here's a blunt, yet accurate assessment of the Flyers from Mason on Tuesday morning in New Jersey:

"This is a tough week to be a part of right now," he said of playing out the schedule. "I think we realize we did ourselves in with our own play. There's nothing more to it than we weren't consistent enough throughout the year to be a playoff hockey team this year.

"Looking back, it's also frustrating because we've seen some glimpses of a real solid hockey team. But in order to be a solid hockey team, you need to have the consistency and that's something that we clearly lacked and it put us in a position where we're playing out the last three games knowing we're not gonna be part of the postseason.

"Moving forward here, I think everybody, at the end of the year, just has to take a look in the mirror and hold themselves accountable and understand that as a whole and as individuals we've got to be better."

Other players have said that in the past two weeks. Yet, that's the kind of honesty you get from Mason every game.

His criticism of the Flyers for their lack of effort in a losing performance at Winnipeg last month had players grumbling. They didn't appreciate what he said, nor the timing of when he said it.

Hextall realizes some of the players don't care for Mason's candidness. Generations of hockey players believe that's the job of the captain and select skaters -- not the goaltender.

Hextall has to ask himself two questions as it pertains to Mason:

1. Does he deserve to return?

2. If so, is he a goaltender the Flyers will play for? Or is this just a goaltender the Flyers will play in front of?

Loose pucks
The Flyers sent defenseman Sam Morin and forward Colin McDonald back to the Phantoms now that their back-to-back games are done and they don't play again until this weekend. Hextall has said all along he wants the Phantoms' roster complete for the AHL playoffs. Both these players could be recalled, but if the Flyers' injury situation turns around by the weekend, that won't be necessary.

Flyers-Oilers thoughts: Welcoming the best player in the world to Philly

USA Today Images/NBCSP

Flyers-Oilers thoughts: Welcoming the best player in the world to Philly

Flyers (4-3-0) vs. Oilers (2-4-0)
1 p.m. on NBCSP, and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 12:30

The best player in the world comes to South Philly today. Get your popcorn ready.

The Flyers, coming off a 1-0 loss to the Predators, host the Oilers in their first matinee of the season at the Wells Fargo Center. It’s Game 4 of the Flyers’ five-game homestand.

Let’s dive into some pregame thoughts before puck drop.

• Move over, Sidney Crosby. There’s a new sheriff in town. It’s time to anoint Connor McDavid as the best player in the world. Many already have. I’m fully on board now.

This kid is special, and each game he does something that blows your mind. On Thursday night, it was a ridiculous spin-o-rama assist against the Chicago Blackhawks.

What made the play exceptional was who he did it against, Blackhawks defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Between the two are seven All-Star Game appearances, two Norris Trophies and one Conn Smythe Trophy, so that’s no joke.

McDavid has three goals and five assists in six games this season. He has 156 points in 133 career games. He’s 20 years old. He should be the face of the league yesterday.

Market him better. I don’t care that he plays in Canada.

• It’s time to put the Brandon Manning-McDavid storyline to bed. It was fun while it lasted, but it’s overplayed (see story). If Manning is in McDavid’s head, it’s not for the better.

McDavid scored a goal and an assist last season in Philadelphia in his first game against the Flyers since Manning broke McDavid’s collarbone with a clean hockey play.

Then, in Edmonton, McDavid had a goal and two assists. Manning played both games. So if anything, it’s adding extra motivation for the best player in the world.

• It appears Travis Sanheim will remain in the lineup, a positive for two reasons:

1. Thursday against Nashville was Sanheim’s best game.

2. Sanheim’s speed and skating is a plus when having to defend McDavid.

Will Sanheim see much ice time against McDavid? I sure hope not. But the Oilers are a decent skating team, and McDavid’s speed is insane. You want as much speed against them as possible.

• You sure hope Jordan Weal can return after missing Thursday with an injury to part of his body. Weal is an important piece for the Flyers, and without him, Dave Hakstol will have to shuffle up his lines. Simply can’t replace Weal with Jori Lehtera on the second line with Valtteri Filppula and Wayne Simmonds.

That unit against the Predators was a disaster. If Weal is out again, I’d insert Matt Read into the lineup. He’s better suited for what the Flyers are doing now than Lehtera.

The good news is Weal practiced Friday. He’s expected to play.

• Three random Flyers stats:

1. Jakub Voracek needs two more points to reach 500 in his career. He will become the 23rd Czech player with 500 career points.

2. Shayne Gostisbehere’s 10 points are the most by a Flyers defenseman through the team’s first seven games dating back to the 1987-88 season.

3. Michal Neuvirth leads NHL goaltenders with a .957 save percentage. He was the worst qualified goalie last season in that category.

• The Oilers again will be without center Leon Draisaitl because of a concussion. Draisaitl practiced Friday but is still feeling symptoms. He hasn’t played since Oct. 9.

• Kailer Yamamoto, the Oilers’ 2017 first-round pick, has seen an increased role with Draisaitl injured. Edmonton has four more games to decide whether it’ll keep Yamamoto or send him back to junior. Yamamoto enters today on a three-game assist streak.

Here is the Flyers' projected lineup:

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Dale Weise-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratches: Forwards Jori Lehtera and Matt Read, and defenseman Brandon Manning.

Best of NHL: Ovechkin wins it for Caps in OT over Red Wings

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Best of NHL: Ovechkin wins it for Caps in OT over Red Wings

DETROIT — Alex Ovechkin’s power-play goal at 1:56 of overtime gave the Washington Capitals a 4-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night.

T.J. Oshie forced the extra session for the Capitals, tying it with 1:01 left in regulation with a power-play goal of his own. Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty on Trevor Daley in overtime, then won it with his 10th goal of the season - a familiar slap shot from the left circle that beat Petr Mrazek to the glove side.

Tomas Tatar scored twice in the third period for Detroit. His second goal came on the power play after John Carlson was called for delay of game. But Dylan Larkin was whistled for the same penalty toward the end of the period, and Oshie was able to tie it at 3 with Caps goalie Braden Holtby pulled.

Darren Helm scored a short-handed goal for the Red Wings in the second. Andre Burakovsky tied it for the Capitals in the final minute of that period, and Jay Beagle added a short-handed goal of his own in the third for Washington (see full recap). 

Conor Sheary lifts Penguins past Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. — Conor Sheary scored a power-play goal with 2:53 left to give the Pittsburgh Penguins a 4-3 victory over the Florida Panthers on Friday night.

Sheary backhanded the puck past James Reimer.

Evgeni Malkin had a goal and an assist, and Sidney Crosby and Carter Rowney also scored for the Penguins. Matthew Murray stopped 28 shots, and Phil Kessell had two assists.

MacKenzie Weegar scored his first NHL goal and Aleksander Barkov and Jamie McGinn also scored for the Panthers. Reimer, who came in to relieve an injured Robert Luongo with 15:14 left in the third, made 11 stops.

Luongo made 33 saves before he left with a hand injury. He was hurt when Sheary backed into him, forcing his right hand hard against the post.

The Panthers tied it at 3 on Weegar's goal with 10:41 left. Weegar shot from the point and beat Murray (see full recap). 

Martin Jones makes 28 saves, Sharks beat Devils 3-0
NEWARK, N.J. — Martin Jones made 28 saves for his first shutout of the season and 16th overall in the San Jose Sharks' 3-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night.

Melker Karlsson, Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi scored and Justin Braun  had two assists to help the Sharks open a five-game East Coast trip.

Keith Kinkaid, the top goalie for New Jersey with Cory Schneider on injured reserve, stopped 30 shots as the Devils' three-game winning streak came to an end.

The Devils couldn't muster a strong push in the later stages against the rested Sharks. It was New Jersey's second game two nights following a 5-4 overtime victory in Ottawa. And it showed against the Sharks, who played a solid road game, pressed their advantage and solidly supported Jones.

Karlsson scored the lone goal of the opening period at 14:11 on a close-in shot following a slick behind-the-net setup pass from Tomas Hertl (see full recap).