By Mary Cunningham

Steve Mason is starting to look like the next Flyers’ failure in goal.

Mason started so slowly this season that he was benched after four games for “retooling.”

Nothing changed during his return Saturday night, and Mason was bewildered with this 2-1 Flyers loss to an improved Florida Panthers squad that has a very stingy defense and elite goalie but played without five injured/sick forwards.

“The best that we played was when I was on the bench,” said Mason, now is 0-4-1 in six starts this season. “We had three and a half minutes in their zone.”

With the Flyers down 2-0 with 3:31 to go, Mason was pulled for an extra attacker. That’s when the Flyers, sleepwalkers in the first period and not a whole lot better in the second, woke up to put all kinds of pressure on Panthers netminder Roberto Luongo.

The Flyers got a shutout-breaking goal by Vincent Lecavalier with 7.4 seconds to go, but there wasn’t enough time from there to get the equalizer.

Mason stopped two breakaways and made a bunch of other brilliant saves, allowing just two goals in which he was screened.

“He played really well,” right wing Wayne Simmonds said. “He made some huge saves for us. Kept us in the game early.”

The Flyers had some late magic when backup goalie Ray Emery was in net this season.

They didn’t this time, and thus most of the Flyers seemed pretty down after a loss that sent them home 0-2 during their Tampa/South Florida roadtrip. They got to the sunshine state with a winning record, but go home 4-5-2.

“We didn’t play the right way at the start and it cost us the game,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said.

Right wing Jakub Voracek credited the Panthers for “playing very good defensive hockey,” but others were angry about coming out very flat and allowing the opening goal for the ninth time in 11 games.

“They were skating,” Simmonds said of Florida. “I don’t think we didn’t really find our legs for a little bit. Obviously that hurt. That’s what happens.”

It happened against a team that filled its four forward lines by calling up two players from the minors and using a defenseman as a left wing.

“The difference between an AHL guy and an NHL guy, sometimes it’s not always the skill,” Simmonds said. “It’s how hard you work. When you got guys coming up from the AHL they’re gonna work as hard as they possibly can. They’re on a tryout, kinda. They played well.”

The Flyers didn’t. They were outworked for a lot of the night.

“We knew we wanted to have a good start and not give them any life and hope and be all over them right away,” defenseman Mark Streit said. “We just didn’t execute. For us, it’s always the same thing. It’s about skating, moving and we just didn’t skate enough.

“They played well. We have to give them credit, but that doesn’t mean we played a good game. We didn’t play well. We didn’t play good enough.”


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