Who Will Be Philadelphia Flyers' Starting Goaltender: Ray Emery or Steve Mason?
The Philadelphia Flyers didn't make much progress toward finding a clear-cut No. 1 goaltender this summer, but the addition of veteran free agent Ray Emery does give the team valuable depth that it lacked last season.
Even though a goalie tandem without an undisputed starter isn't an ideal situation, it's also not something that should prevent a team from competing for the Stanley Cup. After all, the Chicago Blackhawks won a championship last season with a formidable duo of Corey Crawford starting and Emery playing 21 games in a backup role.
But before Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette figures out how to use his tandem, he must determine which player, Emery or Steve Mason, is going to start between the pipes for Game 1 of the regular season against the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 2.
Preseason performance will play a huge part in who's chosen to start on opening night, but right now, the job is Mason's to lose. He was exceptional for the Flyers last season after being acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline.
In fact, Mason drastically improved following his arrival to Philadelphia.
Even though the Flyers weren't battling for a playoff spot in the final two weeks of the season, the games were still meaningful for Mason because he was playing for a new contract and to impress the coaches and front office people for next season.
While it would be unfair to expect Mason to maintain his impressive numbers with the Flyers from 2013 over the course of a full 82-game season, it's certainly possible for him to win 30-plus games and give his team a chance to win most games.
Despite his struggles over the last three years, Mason does have talent, evidenced by his play last season and the Calder Trophy he won after a stellar rookie campaign in 2008-09. The goal for him moving forward is to show the level of consistency that all quality No. 1 goalies give their teams year in and year out.
As for Emery, he surprised everyone by going 17-1 for the Blackhawks in 2013 after failing to win more than 16 games in each of his last four NHL seasons.
His GAA (1.94) and save percentage (.922) were also fantastic, but he played in front of a deep and talented group of defensemen with Chicago that ranked first in GAA and third in penalty killing. He won't have that same defensive quality on his blue line in Philadelphia, so it's too early to tell if his amazing 2013 campaign was an outlier or what can be expected of him on a yearly basis.
The 30-year-old veteran also hasn't played more than 34 games in a season since he appeared in a career-high 58 in 2006-07. He might have been the starter for the Blackhawks in the playoffs last season if a lower-body injury didn't prevent him from being unavailable for the start of the first round.
Durability is an important quality of a starting goaltender, and Mason is more reliable in this aspect than Emery. The former Blue Jackets goaltender has averaged 55 games played over the last four non-lockout seasons and didn't battle through injuries in 2013.
Who should start the regular season in net?
The best-case scenario for the Flyers is for Mason to shine as the starter and become the long-term solution at the position that the team hasn't been able to figure out for a long time.
For that to happen, Mason should begin the year as the No. 1 goalie. Competition from Emery and playing for a new contract will give the 25-year-old all the motivation he needs for a successful 2013-14 season.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft.
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