The Philadelphia Flyers have been in this position before.
Just last season, the team found themselves on the outside looking in at the playoff picture with little hope or chance to land a berth to the dance for the Stanley Cup. With less than 3% odds around this time last season, the Flyers put together an impressive stretch that an included an 11-3-2 month of March and an eventual playoff-berth-clinching victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 9th.
For that to happen again this season, it will take much of the same formula for a team that finds itself currently out of a playoff position.
The Flyers odds to make the playoffs currently sit higher than they did at this point last season at 11.08% (according to Money Puck), but they stand less of a chance if the goaltending doesn’t stand a lot taller than it did for much of the season.
Perhaps the biggest reason that the Flyers have struggled this season is the poor performances of both Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth. They’re both flashing abysmal save percentages for the season (.906 and ..887, respectively) and lack of even average netminding has had the Flyers digging for their playoff lives longer than they would’ve liked. The already poor offense at even strength has become even less dangerous thanks to lack of confidence, aggressiveness and instinct on the attack, but one could argue that the goaltending is at fault for that as well.
Below average goaltending leads to more defensive-minded play which leads to less goals for a team that already struggles to score at 5-on-5, and a bad bounce here or there can bury them. We’ve seen that more than enough times this season.
But what happens if and when a goaltender steps up and the rest of the pieces get to fall into place? Can they repeat the improbable and make a hell of a run through March and.. march into the playoffs?
Mason thinks so, and he’s setting out to prove that last season’s efforts were no fluke.
Since Neuvirth got his two-year contract extension, all Mason has done is come in cold after six games off and help almost completely turn around the mood surrounding this Flyers team. Since his return, Mase is 2-0-1 with 0.96 goals against average and .969 save percentage as the Flyers gathered five of a possible six points and reinserted themselves into the thick of the playoff hunt.
If he can play at this level for a good portion of the 19 games remaining on the schedule, the team could make a run similar to last season. Despite the sharp, and deserved, criticism this season, Mason has the ability to shoulder the load and carry the team through the remaining schedule.
He’s all but stood on his head over the last three contests, including using that same head to make an incredible save in overtime against the Washington Capitals on Saturday night. Throw in a flashy glove save in the final 30 seconds of regulation against the Florida Panthers, a team just one point ahead of the Flyers in the Wild Card standings, and it’s safe to say that Mason has re-grabbed the reigns and control of the time in net indefinitely.
Of course, that time will come to an end at some point, but it’s really cloudy as to when that will be. Despite the numbers and history, Neuvirth was handed an extension to be with the Flyers for two more seasons while Mason continues to fight for that stability. He’s due more money and years than the oft-injured, never-a-starter Neuvirth just got, so it may not come from the Flyers despite the fact that Ron Hextall said they may re-sign him yet.
Either way, Mason has been as professional as they come in his handling of both the status of his contract and his playing time. He sat quietly despite Nevurith getting trotted out game after game while stringing together several poor performances and getting rewarded with a contract extension for it.
Now it’s his time. And with the season hanging in the balance and his future with the franchise as unclear as ever, it’s Mason who the Flyers will count on down the stretch as the continue to battle like hell to sneak into the playoffs once again.
Be sure to follow CJ Burns and Sons of Penn on Twitter and Facebook for analysis, insight, GIFs and more regarding your Philadelphia Flyers.