BITTER BIRDS
Will Steve Mason Thrive During Michal Neuvirth's Absence?
By Adele Tippett Tuesday night’s game against the Ottawa Senators, Steve Mason put on a phenomenal performance, playing to a .923 save percentage despite a 3-2 loss in the shootout. A point of weakness, now seems to be a strength for Mason. A complete and total switch from the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs when he ended with a .739 save percentage. It’s no secret that the goalie tandem in Philly has been less than stellar this season. A drastic and almost unfathomable change coming from last season, where Mason had a .918 save percentage and Michal Neuvirth ended with a .924. Despite the still fresh hockey season, their stats are resting close to the mid-to-high .880s for Mase and .859 for Neuvirth, a disappointing and unexpected start for the pair. The stats this season, while not abysmal, are far from what the fans have come to expect. What changed from last season? What happened to incite flashbacks to the Bryz era? It could be the looming contract extensions, it could be the over-reliance on the Flyers’ now more solid defense. Regardless, there is no immediate solution, trading to solve a problem now will inevitably be more destructive down the road. As Philly fans, we need the immediate fix, patience is not a virtue and saying we’re in a “re-building phase” only passes for so long. So what happens now? Neuvirth is out for 4-6 weeks with a lower body injury, and Anthony Stolarz was brought up from the Phantoms and will hopefully get to see some solid action in the forthcoming weeks. So, we hold on to the hope that Stolarz will continue his development and the team's’ confidence builds on the backs of the prospects Hextall so kindly brought us. There is a commonality among goalies, it’s an unspoken understanding that regardless of how your team is playing in front of you, ultimately, you can and will take the blame for the final score, whether it’s self-inflicted or a witch hunt. It takes it’s toll, it wreaks havoc on your confidence and it seeps in every movement until it inevitably controls you. This is Steve Mason; a cerebral goalie who rides the highs and wallows in the lows. His confidence wavers game to game; put him in the playoffs and he plays like he’s elite, bench him in favor of Neuvirth and he plays like he’s the backup. The issue with this is, you never know who will be between the pipes that game, will it be Stone Cold Steve Mason, or will it be Sub-Par Steve Mason? There is no doubt that he’s a good goalie when he shows up, he has come up big for Philly too many times to count and has effectively carried the team on his back. His silky glove is the highlight of most games; yet, he gets too comfortable, too dependant, too lazy when you least expect it. Mason has some issues to work through before he can without a doubt be the No. 1 starter. It seems that this argument has been in circulation for some time, so maybe that’s a sign that Mase isn’t the goalie for the job, at least until he gets his head where it needs to be. If a guy can have a career save percentage average of .911, there has to be some other obstacle working its way in. The talent is there, the opportunity is there; the thing that’s missing is the confidence in his ability to lead this team to the Cup.