Around and around we go.
Over the last few weeks, the handling of playing time between Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth has been questionable at best. Throw in the strange timing and nature of the two-year contract extension for Neuvirth and we’ve definitely got ourselves a situation.
Last night, the head-scratching handling of the netminders by Dave Hakstol continued as Mason started both games of a back-to-back and his fourth game in six days when the Flyers took on the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center and got hammered 6-2. Mason left the game with a lower-body injury (later explained as ‘cramping’) after extending himself pretty far on Taylor Hall’s breakaway goal.
The timing of the starts handed out recently make very little sense as the coach once again stuck his neck out with his choice of goalie.
Let’s flash back to last Thursday, in easily the biggest game of the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Hakstol unfathomably rolled with the cold, struggling Neuvirth and the results played out just about exactly as we anticipated. It should have been the hot hand Mason with a full-day’s rest and the season on the line, but it was not.
Back to last night, where Mason got the nod after shutting out the Pittsburgh Penguins on home ice less than 24 hours prior and faced a team that he has struggled against for his entire career. Mason was 0-8-0 with a .854 save percentage and 3.77 goals against average in 10 career games against the Devils before last night’s game; he’s now 0-9-0 with an .852 save percentage and 3.93 goals against average against them.
One particularly dreadful 4-0 loss to the Devils right before the Christmas break kind of stands out as the “should’ve known” information.
That game bears striking resemblance to last night’s scenario; Mason made his fifth start in eight days that night and started both games of a back-to-back that ended with a date with the Devils in Newark.
Hakstol obviously hoped for better results last night and Mason has been playing well, but he also needed a rest. Why start Neuvirth cold in the biggest game of the year instead of Mason with rest, then one week later start Mason in both games of the back-to-back in a game with much less bite concerning the standings at this point?
As much as Mason deserves to ride his shutout into more starts, this wasn’t the way to do it. “Tune in tonight to see whether Mase can get his first career win against the Devils, or if the decision will blow up in the coach’s face,” was the sentence I originally had in this article when I wrote, but didn’t finish, before gametime on Thursday night.
I guess we know how that one turned out.
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