By Mary Cunningham
Steve Mason’s thoughts yesterday were still on the wraparound goal he surrendered to Kyle Turris with 1:59 remaining in the Flyers’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Senators the other night.
“Sometimes you just have to step away and gather your thoughts,” Mason told the Inky. “That goal’s on me. It put us in a situation where we have to go into overtime and eventually a shootout and we lost a point there.”
After a rough start in which he went 2-5-1 and owned one of the NHL’s worst save percentages, Mason allowed only three goals in five full periods since replacing Michal Neuvirth (lower-body injury) in the second period of Saturday’s victory over the Minnesota Wild.
Still, Mason has not won consecutive games since the end of the 2015-16 regular season, when his strong play led the Flyers into the playoffs. Mason and Neuvirth are in the final year of their contracts with the Flyers and with Neuvirth sidelined the next 4-to-6 weeks, Mason has an opportunity to lay the groundwork for a new contract.
The Winnipeg Jets, meanwhile, have a growing legion of believers around the NHL, thanks to a surprisingly strong start from their top line of center Mark Scheifele (10 goals, league-high 21 points), right winger Patrik Laine (league-high 12 goals, 17 points) and left winger Nikolaj Ehlers (four goals, 16 points). The trio is a combined plus-20 through 18 games.
Laine, a 6-foot-5, 206-pounder, first showed his goal-scoring ability in the World Cup when he played for Team Finland. At 18 years old, he has a real shot at challenging for the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year.
“I’ve seen a lot of video of him, basically on all the highlights,” Mason said. “He seems to be on there almost every night. He’s obviously got a shot that can be up with the (Alex) Ovechkins, Brett Hull or whoever you want to call it. He’s the type of guy where you have to beat the pass; you can’t be getting there as he’s already releasing the puck because his shot is obviously too quick to catch up to. You have to get there with your feet set and get a good line of sight on the puck.”
As well as the Jets have played offensively, they might be even better defensively. They are coming off a 4-0 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks and have allowed only seven regulation goals in their last five games.
“I think we’re really buying into the D-zone,” Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck told the Winnipeg Free Press. “We’re doing the little things correct and they’re getting in front of shots and they’re making my life easier, which is making it easier for them. Once they get in the offensive zone, they have so much talent.”
The Flyers (7-7-3) have also played sound defensive hockey their past two games, but have blown third-period leads in two of their last three contests and have lost four of their last five (1-3-1).