A few summers back I covered a charity golf tournament put on by then-Blackhawks center Dave Bolland outside of Toronto. Among the celebrities in the field were Steve Mason and retired goalie-turned-analyst Kevin Weekes. I asked Weekes what he thought of Mason, who was coming off another tough year in Columbus, failing to get back to the form that won him the Calder Trophy in 2009.
"Does he even know how good he can be?" Weekes asked rhetorically.
The affable analyst went on to say that Mason could win the Vezina one day if he put in the right work and while there's still an impressive list of netminders ahead of him, I'm starting to see what Weekes was getting at.
Mason's Flyers lost 2-1 last night to New York, earning the Rangers a berth in the second round and taking a little heat off Henrik Lundqvist. Though 'Hank' got the glory, he was still technically the second-best goalie in the series once again – but this time fate conspired against his Philadelphia opponents. What would this series had have looked like if Mason was healthy at the beginning? Ray Emery started three of the contests and took it on the chin from the Rangers. Though Mason's record was just 2-2, he had some of the best numbers in the post-season, with only Tuukka Rask of Boston posting a better goals-against average and save percentage among netminders who played more than two games.
And look at last night: Both Rangers goals came on bang-bang plays that even the best goalies of all-time would have struggled to stop – they were no softies. I admit to being skeptical that Mason could survive in a Philadelphia market that has consistently melted goaltenders like they were Water Ice, but I'm a believer now.
As the Flyers head into another off-season without that coveted Stanley Cup to hoist, the fix seems rather simple: team defense. Watching Philadelphia this season, you could see too many instances where players lost their man or were simply lost in their own zone. The Flyers were not a strong puck possession team, with only seven regulars posting a positive Corsi rating during the regular season (the Rangers had 15, as a comparable).
As a silver lining, it appears as though Philly has their man in net. Mason is signed long-term and assuming he has a good summer, he'll be back to steal games every once in awhile and generally be a solid No. 1 in goal. The Flyers can do him a favor by tightening up in front of him.