The Phoenix Coyotes filled Jobing.com arena with excitement at the return of their beloved captain Shane Doan before their game against the Philadelphia Flyers. As much of a class act as there is in the NHL, Doan was excited to be back and playing tonight. His presence seemed to have an uplifting effect on his teammates, who rallied around their captain.
As the night went on, it became increasingly obvious that there was someone else who was intent on establishing their presence in this particular game. That someone was Steve Mason.
Mason has been playing so well that he is forcing those who believe that he should be a lifetime backup to be silent for the time being. Though he has not been as sharp during the last month, struggling at times, I think he made a great case for why he is an important part of this team tonight.
Now, one does not normally remark about a goaltender on a night in which they give up three goals. However, I felt as though what Mason did in this game was make the saves that settled his team down, and also kept them in the game.
There were some times when the Coyotes were creating traffic in front of the net, really cycling the puck, and generally making it hard for the Flyers to clear the puck out of their own zone. That is when Steve Mason was coming up the biggest, when he was making timely saves, and even provides words of encouragement to his teammates.
There were times tonight when you could visually see that he was calming down D-men who had blown coverage, and when he was communicating to his teammates after they had scored a goal. This shows that Mason is exhibiting the kind of leadership that usually comes with mature goaltenders who realize their significance to their team.
Sometimes, as Mason is well aware, teams just simply do not play the same way in front of their No. 1 goalie as they would in front of a backup. It seems to me that the Flyers are just more comfortable executing their game in front of Mason than they have been with any goalie that they have had for the past few years.
If Mason can continue the consistent, calming, steady player that he has shown to this point in the season, then the Flyers absolutely should be able to grab a playoff spot. Early in the season, his solid play was one of the only positives that the Flyers could count on every game. Should they be able to make a run this season, they would be wise to look back to the beginning of the season and remember what Steve Mason did for them.
Tonight was just another prominent example of when play in goal kept the Flyers in the game, something that Philadelphia fans are probably still getting used to. Steve Mason probably thinks that he is just getting started.