Before the start of the 2013-14 NHL season, goaltending was viewed by many as one of the biggest question marks for the Philadelphia Flyers. But after 11 games, even though the team has a disappointing 3-8-0 record, goaltending has not been a problem for the Flyers.
Last season, Ilya Bryzgalov was the starter for Philadelphia, and his performance was inconsistent and uneven. In 40 games, Bryzgalov had a 2.79 goals-against average and a save percentage of just .900. The Flyers bought him out of his contract last summer and looked for a replacement.
Over the offseason, general manager Paul Holmgren signed Ray Emery to battle with holdover Steve Mason for the starting goaltending duties. The Flyers acquired Mason at the trade deadline of the 2012-13 season in a deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Mason played well after arriving in Philadelphia, decent enough to earn a chance to compete for the starting job this season.
Mason won the job in training camp and has started nine of the first 11 games for the Flyers this season, while Emery has started the other two games.
Though his record doesn't indicate it, Mason has actually played very well and has kept Philadelphia in almost every game he's played in despite the team's lack of goal scoring.
Mason is just 3-6-0 this year, but his GAA is a very solid 2.25 and his save percentage is .928. More importantly, he is making saves at key times to give some confidence to his struggling team.
Coach Craig Berube told Dave Isaac of the Courier-Post why he was so pleased with Mason so far. "He’s played really well, and I really like his game," Berube explained. "He looks big. He looks confident and he’s moving the puck great, too, which really helps out. He looks real confident to me in net."
Forward Wayne Simmonds took it a step further. He told Tim Panaccio of CSNPhilly.com, "He’s been everything to us this year. He’s standing on his head every single game, keeping us in the game, making every single save he can make and it sucks for him because we’re not supporting him on the other end."
The most remarkable thing about Mason has been his consistency. He has yet to allow more than three goals in any of his nine starts this season. If the Flyers were in the middle of the league in goals scored instead of near the bottom, they probably would have a winning record in the games Mason has played.
Mason is further encouraged by the adjustments that Berube has made since taking over for Peter Laviolette, who was fired after Philadelphia started the season 0-3-0.
Mason told Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer, "We're trying to clean things up and make sure our in-zone plays are more calm and less scrambly than in the first few games and, obviously, in preseason. I think everybody felt that we were running around, and when you're doing that, things become a lot more difficult."
Emery is now the backup goalie. He has only seen action in two games, so it's difficult to judge his performance. The numbers aren't that impressive, but when you aren't playing regularly, it's difficult to get into a rhythm. In two games, Emery is 0-2-0 with a 4.04 GAA and an .873 save percentage.
Amazingly enough, Emery has already lost more games this season than he did in all of 2012-13. Last year with the Blackhawks, Emery was 17-1-0 with a 1.94 GA and a .922 save percentage. Of course, he also had the league's best team and the eventual Stanley Cup champions playing in front of him.
Expect Emery to see more action when Mason cools off a little bit. At some point this season, the Flyers will need Emery, and they have to hope he will be ready.
Despite the experts' gloomy predictions and the team's slow start to this season, goaltending has not been part of the problem in Philadelphia. In fact, one shutters to think where the Flyers would be this season without the strong goaltending they've received from Mason thus far.