Steve Mason has been given every opportunity to put a stranglehold around the No. 1 starting goalie job for the Flyers this season.
However, each time – and there have been many of them already in the first two months – he’s turned in mediocre, or worse, performances and been replaced for multiple games at a time by backup Michal Neuvirth.
Mason has been given another shot to prove once and for all he deserves to be the main guy between the pipes for coach Dave Hakstol’s club for the rest of the year.
The team announced that Neuvirth suffered a sprained knee during the first period of Saturday’s 3-2 win over the Wild and will be out four-to-six weeks. Rookie Anthony Stolarz has been called up from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms to replace Neuvirth.
Neuvirth’s misfortune allows Mason more of a leash to get into a rhythm. With the untested Stolarz behind him, don’t expect to see Mason benched as quickly as he has so far this year after a lackluster game.
It will likely be similar situation to last year when Neuvirth got injured at the end of February. Mason started 17 of the final 18 games and allowed just 37 goals.
Despite a strong preseason, Mason carries a 3-5-2 record, .341 goals against average and .880 save percentage into Tuesday’s home game against the Senators. He ranks 43rd and 46th, respectively, in each category in the league.
With Saturday’s win in relief, Mason broke a four-game losing streak. He was given the night off on Saturday after allowing six goals, including four in the third period, on 23 shots in Toronto on Friday.
“I thought the boys played a strong game coming in off of [Friday],” Mason said following Saturday’s game. “Obviously we were pretty embarrassed coming out of the third period. I came in [Saturday morning] and had a meeting and it wasn’t really a positive meeting. It was showing stuff that I can maybe be better at.”
Thrust into action against 24 hours later, Mason was better, making 19 of 20 saves.
“I hope [Saturday’s effort] continues to boost his confidence,” Hakstol said. “Mason has nothing to be embarrassed about. He shows up and he works hard and he battles hard every day. Things haven’t quite gone as well early on but that is the game.”
The major knock against both goalies has been their inability to make a big save in a key moment. Mason delivered one against the Wild with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game.
“He came in and played an unbelievable [two] periods for us,” defenseman Michael Del Zotto said. “He saved the game with that save at the end.”
It was the type of effort Mason will need to have over the next month or so if he wants to retain the job of starting goalie.