Flyers

Steve Mason showing signs of fatigue after playing 25 of last 27 games

Steve Mason showing signs of fatigue after playing 25 of last 27 games

Steve Mason appears tired. 

And it’s hurting the Flyers.

Dave Hakstol’s decision to ride Mason through eight of 10 games during the club’s winning streak, then continue to play him after the streak ended instead of using backup Anthony Stolarz, has backfired.

Mason played in his ninth straight game on Wednesday, an embarrassing, 5-2 blowout loss to the New York Rangers on home ice (see story). He appeared fatigued.

“No, not fatigue,” Hakstol insisted. “It’s a team game and we gave four [goals], plus an empty-netter. As a team, we will leave it at that. We gave up four goals that were a little too easy.”

And Mason couldn’t make a single momentum save on several two-on-ones that might have given the Flyers a chance in goal.

His reaction time and body language suggest the goalie is fatigued. 

Mason couldn’t stop either of Kevin Hayes’ two goals and allowed a bad one to Chris Kreider. That’s not the goalie Mason has been when fresh.

“I wasn’t good enough. It’s pretty simple,” Mason said when asked about being tired. “They come with speed and they come with odd-man rushes. They were able to capitalize on it and I didn’t come up with the saves there.”

Mason made his 22nd start in 24 games on Wednesday night. In all, he’s played in 25 of the last 27 games. It’s the most work the Flyers' goalie has ever had over such a span — more than a quarter season’s worth of games.

Hakstol could have spelled Mason more when Stolarz was here, but the coach’s emphasis was gathering points because of the pressure to win in the Metropolitan Division, where several clubs had simultaneous win streaks. Hakstol felt Mason was a safer bet than Stolie to pile up points.

Stolarz should have played in New Jersey right before the break. And he should have played in Anaheim on the recently completed road trip in which the Flyers went 0-2-1 when Mason had a bruised left hand from San Jose.

Mason is 2-5-2 during his current nine-game stretch of consecutive starts with a 2.93 goals-against average and .896 save percentage.

“Right now, it’s about winning hockey games,” Hakstol said of using Mason vs. the Ducks, a game in which the Flyers had 55 shots on net but just three goals. “The other stuff really doesn’t play into it.”

The really bad news here is that Hakstol has a tired goalie when his team is about to hit the midpoint of the season, which officially comes on Saturday against Tampa Bay.

And Stolarz is back with the Phantoms. Mason’s backup right now is Michal Neuvirth, who’s appeared in just nine games all season because of a left knee injury.

Neuvirth is healthy and untested and he’s got to get back in net this weekend.

Mason talked about his health status hours before the Rangers loss.

“It’s been a heavy workload, obviously,” Mason said. “I’ve tried to do the best I can to prepare my body for this load. Every day you just try to stay on top of things.”

Asked whether he was fatigued, Mason replied, “I feel alright.

“Like I said, it’s been a heavy workload, but at the same time, I’m not going to complain that the coaching staff trusted me with a heavy workload and [has] shown the trust to put me in, night in and night out.

“Sometimes I haven’t played my best and they’ve shown the trust by putting me right back in there. It’s something you work toward. You just try to do your best to be a consistent presence back there.”

Well, it hasn’t worked to the Flyers' advantage.

“It’s not a fun time right now,” Mason said. “We have to find way to come out on top and just push through here without getting too discouraged.”

If Alain Vigneault can't work his magic with Flyers' roster, pressure mounts for Chuck Fletcher

If Alain Vigneault can't work his magic with Flyers' roster, pressure mounts for Chuck Fletcher

Chuck Fletcher was brought in because things weren't going well enough and quickly enough for the Flyers.

The predicament he inherited required eventual change.

After all, sitting alongside team president Paul Holmgren back in November, Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott said the Flyers were eyeing a general manager with a "bias for action," among other qualities.

With time and evaluation, Fletcher has begun providing the desired action.

A new head coach is on board, bringing extensive experience and outside perspective, while two new assistants with strong pedigrees have been hired.

But perhaps the most influential part in shifting the Flyers' course has remained mostly intact: the roster. That could drastically change this upcoming offseason with free agency and potential trades. However, Fletcher, facing his first offseason as the Flyers' GM, doesn't see an exodus needed with the current roster — or at least not yet.

"The Flyers are a great opportunity. You guys are in this market, for me coming in from the outside, I know when Paul Holmgren approached me about being the general manager of the Flyers, I'm like, 'Wow.' This is a premium job in the National Hockey League and we're set up where we should have an opportunity to get better quickly," Fletcher said April 18. "I know we need more good players, but we have a lot of good players. It's not like you have to gut this thing — we have cap space, we have picks. We have really good staff, really good staff. On the scouting and management side, I've added one person, I haven't subtracted anything. There's a good group here and we have the ability to get better quickly if we all do our job."

Therein lies a poignant and undeniable pressure on Fletcher in Year 1 with the Flyers under Alain Vigneault's watch.

Aside from Wayne Simmonds, who became an inevitable piece to move given the circumstances, the Flyers' core has survived. So, too, has the overall makeup of the roster.

Fletcher, Vigneault and the Flyers believe this team can win with a refined system and different guidance. They don't exactly see a team that has missed the playoffs every other season since 2012-13, a stretch consisting of three first-round exits.

Will Fletcher add this summer? Of course — the ability to do so is one of the reasons why Vigneault found the Flyers as an attractive destination. When Fletcher was hiring Vigneault, the two established a list of areas in which the Flyers can improve.

"We're looking at some options and if we can put the right things in place," Vigneault said at his introduction, "it's going to be a lot of fun."

Significant subtraction was not featured on the list.

"There's some solid youth with a lot of upside here that is coming into its own," Vigneault said. "There's great goaltending, being one of those youth pieces. There's a solid core group that, in my mind, needs the right direction. And you've got the combination, also, of some solid veteran players that have been in the league a few years, that can still contribute at a high level in this league. … After discussing it with a lot of people that I respect their opinion in the NHL, I feel that the Flyers are a very good team that with the proper direction, proper mindset, proper culture and people working together, will be a very good team in the near future."

That's why Year 1 will be so telling.

Vigneault is a coach with a tremendous track record of winning during his first season on the job. He did so at three separate stops (see story). Michel Therrien has 38 postseason victories under his belt as a head coach and took a team to the Stanley Cup Final. Mike Yeo owns three playoff series victories as a head coach and has a ring as an assistant.

If this group can't produce the results with the Flyers' roster, Fletcher will have to take a longer, much more serious look at the players in place and make his hardest decisions yet.

At that point, it may be the only action left.

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule, live stream: More drama ahead for Sharks-Blues Western Conference Final?

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule, live stream: More drama ahead for Sharks-Blues Western Conference Final?

There has been a ton of drama only three games into the Western Conference Final between the Sharks and Blues.

Game 3 was won by the Sharks, 5-4, in overtime, but not without controversy. San Jose may have gotten away with a hand pass on the game-winning goal.

The series will shift one way or the other Friday night with Game 4.

Below is the schedule for Day 37 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can watch the entire playoffs on the networks of NBC. 

San Jose Sharks at St. Louis Blues (SJS 2-1)
Game 4, Western Conference Final
8 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN | Live stream here