Flyers

With Jets on tap, Flyers have proven better off without Steve Mason

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With Jets on tap, Flyers have proven better off without Steve Mason

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth sat side by side in their cramped stalls Wednesday afternoon at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg and shared a laugh after coming off the ice from their midday practice. 

The two NHL goaltenders have learned about sharing space, especially in net. If the NHL ever had a timeshare presentation, Elliott and Neuvirth could probably sell you on its benefits.

Financially, they’re both making nearly identical salaries, with Elliott at $2.75 million and Neuvirth $2.5 million.

Neither guy came into October expecting to be the No. 1 in net, and if they did, they certainly downplayed it within the media. It’s a ho-hum tandem that just goes about its business, which is quite the contrast from the past four seasons.

With Steve Mason, you knew what was on his mind, almost to a fault. 

He despised the shootout. He talked about facing the pressure, a lot. There was an admission a few years back that he vented to his parents, sometimes swearing, after a bad start or a string of rough outings. He was naturally upset he wasn’t named the starter for the season opener in Los Angeles. There was the disappointment of not having a contract after last season, and then the “clarity” of moving forward after the Flyers re-signed Neuvirth and not him. 

Whereas Ilya Bryzgalov was the organizational migraine, Mason was simply a wave of nausea. Perhaps he came at just the right time following the most disastrous contract ever. 

For a franchise that gets nearly as much grief for its goalies as the Cleveland Browns do with quarterbacks, finding one that is relatively low-key, along with a propensity for stopping the puck, should be high on the Flyers’ list.  

Privately, a few former and current Flyers told me Mason had a way about him that could rub players the wrong way. There was his body language and staredown after giving up a goal. Then on a few occasions he called out his teammates following a lackluster performance. Ironically, last season’s game right here in Winnipeg, a 3-2 loss, was a prime example: 

“It was up to us to make them feel uncomfortable,” Mason said after the March 22 game. “We're also facing a goaltender (Michael Hutchinson) who hadn't had a start in two months, and I don't think we made it hard enough for him. We need a better effort.

“We keep playing like this and we'll be mathematically eliminated before you know it. We've got to stop this win-one-lose-one [habit]. We have to have some growth on the team here.”

While there may have been some truth to Mason’s words, one could argue it wasn’t his place to point fingers. That’s especially the case on a team with a coach who keeps most of his criticisms in a clenched fist.

Not once can you recall Mason’s teammates calling out their netminder following a horrendous game or, say, giving up a goal in a first-round playoff game that slides right through the five-hole from 125 feet away.

However, Mason left Philadelphia ranked third on the franchise’s all-time games played list and wins list. Only NHL Hall of Famer Bernie Parent and Flyers Hall of Famer Ron Hextall had more. 

When Mason returns to Philadelphia, I’m sure the organization will have a video tribute for his four-plus years of service in orange and black. However, let’s face it, Hextall wanted no part of Mason moving forward.  

“I had wanted to go back there (to Philadelphia), but seeing that they wanted to go in a different direction, you take it as what it is,” Mason recently told The Winnipeg Sun. “Come the summer, there were no discussions, so you move on. I’m happy to be in Winnipeg.”

No discussions. No chance to stay at a reduced rate. No more Mason.

With the signing of Elliott, Hextall was able to save money, and so far, the Flyers’ pair of Elliott and Neuvirth has saved its share of pucks. The Flyers are currently tied for sixth in the NHL with a 2.61 goals against per game.

On the flip side, Mason has had to recover from a disastrous start, one that included surrendering five goals in each of his first three starts with the Jets. He has also been outplayed by Connor Hellebuyck. Mason finally earned his first win of the season this past Saturday against the Coyotes.

Goaltending may not be the Flyers’ greatest strength this season, but it’s clearly not a weakness. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a quiet corner in the locker room. 

Flyers weekly observations: Something to think about with Alain Vigneault's system

Flyers weekly observations: Something to think about with Alain Vigneault's system

The Flyers went to the shootout two more times this week and stomached an 0-1-2 stretch punctuated by Saturday night's brutal collapse against the Islanders.

Twenty games into the 2019-20 season and the Flyers (10-6-4) are a complex group. Despite improvements under a new coaching staff with some new personnel, they are still the tough-to-predict Flyers.

Let's get into that and more with our weekly observations:

• When head coach Alain Vigneault's system is at its apex, all four lines are making an impact. Setting up shop in the offensive zone requires constant effort. The hard-on-the-attack, get-after-it premise can be taxing, so balance through the lineup is vital.

The Flyers haven't had that and their record reflects it. So, too, does their failure to close games. It's very possible they're running out of gas in the final 20 minutes.

The sharing of ice time can also lead to a style not conducive for high-volume individual point production. When everyone is going, the minutes and scoring can spread out.

Through 20 games, the production is down for Claude Giroux (13 points), Jakub Voracek (13), James van Riemsdyk (nine) and Kevin Hayes (seven). The Flyers don't need career years from those four; that probably wasn't going to happen. But the Flyers do need them for better balance or this team will have a difficult time finding consistency in Vigneault's system.

• On top of the way the Flyers want to play, their schedule hasn't been favorable — all of which could be having a negative effect on delivering knockout punches.

After playing in four different countries from Sept. 30 through October, the Flyers are in the midst of playing 16 games during November. They've already played five back-to-back sets out of 17 this season. In the second game of such situations, the Flyers are 1-2-2 and giving up 3.8 goals per game.

The Flyers have gone to the shootout seven times compared to just four times all of last season. Suddenly the start of games isn't an issue but instead finishing them has caused concerns.

Over the Flyers' last six games, they've been outscored 7-1 in the third period. Five of those six games have gone past regulation and at least three didn't have to.

“Not knowing exactly what we had to work with, I believe that we’re a work in progress and I really believe that we have steps forward to make," Vigneault said before Saturday night's game. "We’re not where I want this team to be, we’re not where I know our team wants to be. But we’re in a good place. We’re right there with a lot of good teams battling.”

• It's obvious by his faceoff work that Sean Couturier is still dealing with a shoulder strain.

The 26-year-old is one of the NHL's best in the dot but lost 12 of 13 faceoffs taken over three games this week. Last season, Couturier had 21 games in which he won at least 12 faceoffs.

He's clearly not the same guy in the circle. However, the injury hasn't stopped him from recording 10 points (four goals, six assists) and a plus-6 mark in his last 10 games.

“I feel better and better every day," he said Tuesday. "It’s more of don’t want to get it worse, want to heal it properly, don’t want it to last all year.”

The left-handed Couturier has limited his number of faceoffs and has even tried taking them right-handed.

“It’s something he’s worked on and it’s something that is pain-free for him," Vigneault said. "He does try it now or then. If the centerman gets kicked out, he’ll go in and try to win them on the side that doesn’t hurt. I hope he’s getting close because we need him to take draws.”

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Yikes! Flyers choke away 3-0 third-period lead for shootout loss to Islanders

Yikes! Flyers choke away 3-0 third-period lead for shootout loss to Islanders

BOX SCORE

The Flyers choked away a 3-0 third-period lead Saturday night en route to a crushing 4-3 shootout loss at the hands of the Islanders.

The aftermath: an ugly and lost weekend.

Returning home to the Wells Fargo Center, head coach Alain Vigneault's team was in prime position to secure a noteworthy win following a befuddling letdown in Ottawa the night prior.

The Flyers wilted, though, in the final stanza, wasting away an opportunity for a quality win within the division. The Flyers (10-6-4) have lost three straight and gone to the shootout seven times this season because of blown leads and an inability to finish games.

After scoring two goals over their last two games, both losses, the Flyers were able to put up three on New York through two periods. The Islanders entered allowing the NHL's fewest goals per game at 2.29.

If only the Flyers kept their foot on the gas.

Give credit to the Islanders (14-3-1) for storming back and extending their point streak to 14 games (13-0-1). They took advantage of a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty in the third period and completely had the Flyers on their heels.

• The Flyers are at the 20-game mark and this was not how they wanted to reach it. While they look different this season, they are still maddeningly inconsistent at times.

Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, James van Riemsdyk and Kevin Hayes went scoreless against New York.

It's a good thing when others are producing, but the Flyers will need to get their big boys going with the others. It hasn't happened yet and the team's record reflects it.

• Brian Elliott came in and out of his crease quite often Saturday night. He had a weird game as he made some timely saves but fell flat in the third period.

That's when they really needed him.

• Oskar Lindblom has arguably been the Flyers' best forward 20 games into the year. The 23-year-old plays on both special teams units and has nine goals and seven assists.

Other NHL players with nine goals so far: Sebastian Aho, Filip Forsberg and Artemi Panarin.

Lindblom had a two-point effort Saturday, marking his third multi-point game of the season after having four all of last season.

He has run away with the opportunity given to him by Vigneault and company.

• The new line of Lindblom, Joel Farabee and Sean Couturier features plenty of intrigue.

The group opened the game's scoring just 1:38 into the action when Lindblom found Couturier, who had a two-point performance himself. The Flyers were 12-5-2 when Couturier had a multi-point game last season.

Lindblom, Couturier and Farabee combined for five points. It still wasn't enough, which is troubling.

• Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere have been flip-flopping on the first and second power play units. Provorov was moved off the first group in Friday night's 2-1 loss to the Senators.

"Provy started off, he had three turnovers in the first 10 minutes, made a switch," Vigneault said before Saturday night's game. "Ghost seemed to me that he was playing a little bit better. If you want to play, you’ve got to make the plays."

Provorov made one on the man advantage Saturday to give the Flyers a 2-0 lead in the opening frame. He has four goals and nine assists in 20 games. Last season, he had four goals and eight assists through 40 games. The addition of Matt Niskanen has been huge for the 22-year-old defenseman.

• A little over two hours before puck drop, Vigneault said the Flyers had lineup decisions to make regarding some players nursing minor injuries.

The club's full roster took warmups. Afterward, Philippe Myers and Carsen Twarynski were the scratches as Robert Hagg and Chris Stewart played in their spots.

It's uncertain why the Flyers went that route. Vigneault said postgame that both Myers and Twarynski were healthy.

Myers will be back in the lineup. The 22-year-old defenseman has been great with three goals, an assist and a plus-7 mark in eight games since being called up from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

Twarynski, a 21-year-old forward, is in a more precarious spot with Scott Laughton (broken finger) nearing his return from long-term injured reserve. Laughton could be back as soon as next Saturday's game against the Flames.

• The Flyers rocked military appreciation jerseys during warmups.

• The Flyers are off Sunday and practice Monday at 11:30 a.m. in Voorhees, New Jersey, before traveling to Florida for a matchup Tuesday with Joel Quenneville's Panthers (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

 

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