Have the Philadelphia Flyers Finally Found a Solid Goalie in Steve Mason?

John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

For Philadelphia Flyers goalie Steve Mason, the past five years have been one heck of a roller coaster ride through the NHL.

He began on top of the world, debuting early in the 2008-09 season with the Columbus Blue Jackets and almost single-handedly bringing his team to relevance. Columbus went from consistently scraping the bottom of the league standings to a playoff team, thanks largely due to Mason and his Calder Trophy winning campaign. The club’s first postseason appearance in franchise history was quick and painful though, as they were throttled by the Detroit Red Wings. At the same time, there was finally optimism in Central Ohio, with the hope that the season was just a sign of things to come for the Blue Jackets.

Instead, Columbus tumbled back down league standings the following year. While the team sank, Mason’s GAA increased over the next three years. Many around the team claimed the goalie’s rookie season had led to an inflated sense of confidence that was becoming quite an issue. It seemed he was a bit indifferent towards any criticism, and before you knew it, a player who once looked like a pivotal piece to Columbus’ future became trade bait.

The Flyers, known around the league as a place where goalie careers go to die, came calling last season. On paper, it seemed like the death knell to Mason’s once promising start in the league. Certainly it would only be a matter of time before the notoriously critical Philadelphia media would tear him apart the second he showed signs of weakness. Just ask former Flyer Ilya Bryzgalov how he feels about the Philly press.

Much to the surprise of many league pundits, the exact opposite has occurred. Mason played well in his seven starts last year, and continued his pace so far this season. Despite a win-loss record of 10-9-3, his stats have vastly improved from his rough days in Columbus. His current GAA is 2.35, just .04 higher than the numbers he put up during his Calder campaign. Meanwhile, his save percentage is actually better now (.926) than his rookie year (.916).

His win-loss record most likely has to do with just how much of a mess the Flyers were coming out of the gate this year. The team fired coach Peter Laviolette just a couple games into the season, and they were an eye-sore offensively.  At the same time, a November hot streak kept the Flyers afloat, as does their placement in the absolutely atrocious Metropolitan Division. They’re currently three points out of a playoff spot, so even though people were closing the books on Philadelphia early, a postseason appearance is still in reach.

As impressive as Mason has been this year, his last two outings were steps back. He was shelled by the Dallas Stars and Ottawa Senators, giving up four goals in each game. Philadelphia lost again last night, destroyed by the Chicago Blackhawks 7-2. Mason took over for Ray Emery, but gave up a goal on five shots.

This skid will be important for Mason and the Flyers. If it derails what was once a promising looking season, what seemed to be a bounce-back effort after years of declining ability, it could put an end to any talk of Mason being a credible starter. People will actually begin doubting him any time he plays well, assuming he’ll just get cocky again and start looking average at best before you know it.

Or, Mason could take his lumps, both accept and learn from critiques and eventually return to form. Philadelphia’s playoff hopes are hanging in the balance, with their goalie playing a crucial part in possibly making them a reality.

It’s time to find out whether or not the former rookie of the year can end the woes of a team that’s been dying for consistent goaltending since the likes of Bernie Parent and Ron Hextall.

Casey Drottar is an NHL writer for Rantsports.com. Follow him on Twitter @CDrottar19 or “Like” him on Facebook

Can Mason continue to be solid between the pipes? You can see for yourself by purchasing Flyers tickets today. They have several tough matchups coming up in the next month or so, including games against the Capitals, Wild and Canadiens so make sure to check them out.

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