Flyers Backcheck: Mason Carries Flyers to Shootout Glory

You can laugh at the Flyers’ recent futility in the shootout all you want. But that wretched 10-game shootout drought is finally over, thanks in large part to Steve Mason’s masterful 41-save performance against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night. Philly’s shootout glory was capped off by Wayne Simmonds’ fifth-round goal, snapping a five-game losing streak in the process, as the Flyers downed the Sens, 2-1.

Saddle up. It’s a victory edition of Flyers Backcheck.

Giroux Returns, Mason Dominates

How valuable is Claude Giroux to the Flyers? Of Philly’s 15 wins on the season, Giroux has notched at least one point in each of them.

After sitting out just one game after suffering a lower-body injury involving the skate of Justin Faulk in Carolina, the Flyers cautiously reinserted their ever so valuable captain back into the lineup.

Flyers captain Giroux returned to the lineup after missing Saturday’s game with a nasty skate cut on his left ankle, which was heavily taped. Which means Zac Rinaldo’s new nickname is “The Decoy,” since he was skating on the top line without Giroux in practice. — Tim Panaccio, CSN Philly

Despite logging 22:13 of ice time, Flyers coach Craig Berube held his star forward from the penalty kill in all four Ottawa power plays. The logic and results in doing so made it a decision that paid dividends for the Flyers and their 30th ranked penalty kill. Berube didn’t want Giroux’s tender lower side to be in the line of fire, and the decision paid off.

Philadelphia manhandled Ottawa’s power play, while cashing in on one of four power plays of their own. Wayne Simmonds’ third period power play goal not only answered Mike Hoffman’s goal from not even three minutes before, it was the Flyers’ team leader in goals’ ninth power play goal of the season – tied for second in the league.

Stealing Giroux’s thunder, however, was goalie Steve Mason. The seven-year veteran stole the show, absorbing 41 of Ottawa’s 42 shots before stopping four of the five Senators shooters in the skills competition.

“It feels pretty good, but without Mase, we don’t even get a chance to win that game,” said Simmonds, who was an assist shy of recording a Gordie Howe hat trick. “He played unbelievable for us and he gave us a shot.”

Even with the win, the Flyers have secured only three points in their last seven games. But their latest pair of points come against a 16-15-8 team in the Senators. Philly has now beaten Ottawa in six of their last 10 meetings, earning points in eight of those past meetings.

“It was a rather mellow game. We knew we were still in it, we just had to ramp it up,” added Simmonds. “I think we kept from making any major mistakes.

“We got a lot of work to do in the second half of the season because we put ourselves behind the [eight] ball. It’s nice to get that first win at home … to break our losses in the shootout feels pretty good.”

If Simmonds and the Flyers are still thinking playoffs, good luck to them. They’re going to need it. While the shootout victory is sweet nonetheless, the Flyers gained little ground on Tuesday.

Instead of sitting 10 points back of the the eighth and final playoff spot, though, the win inches them closer with an eight point deficit glaring back at them now. But Ottawa’s loser point keeps the Sens ahead of Philly by three points, while Columbus’ win in Dallas has the Blue Jackets ahead of .500 (18-17-3) for the first time since early October.

Tuesday’s win is a step in the right direction. But the euphoric high of finally winning a shootout doesn’t erase the probability that the Flyers will likely miss out on the playoffs for the fourth time since the 1993-94 season.

Shootout Glory in Philadelphia

With the kind of season it’s been for the Flyers, their shootout glory on Tuesday night feels like a playoff berth in its own regard. Not only was it Philadelphia’s first shootout win of the campaign, it was their first in over a full calendar year.

Considering what the Flyers were up against heading into the shootout, it was almost as if the single point could’ve been prematurely added to their points totals in the standings. The Sens were 3-3 on the season in the one-on-one competition, and 4-0 all-time against Philadelphia. But after studying film of Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, Mason was ready this time to implement what he had learned.

“I’ve been watching Fleury,” Mason said after his first shootout win since Dec. 30th, 2013. “Fleury and (Colorado Avalanche goalie) Semyon Varlamov had a lot of success in the shootouts the last couple of years, so I watched a lot of tape on them.”

Mason’s film studies didn’t pan out, of course, right off the bat. He first tried to mirror the Pittsburgh goalie in a shootout loss to Florida on Dec. 18th, although he did stop four of Florida’s six shooters.

On Tuesday against Ottawa, Mika Zbanejad led the tie-breaker off with an easy first-round goal. But after Jakub Voracek answered on the other end, Mason took his studies and skill into lockdown mode.

“Fleury kind of waits for shooters to get over the blueline a couple steps, then he kind of explodes out and gives the shootouts a little bit of a different look,” Mason explained. “Then shooters see a lot of net with him in the back of the net, then he kind of fires out and takes it all away. It’s something that I tried tonight. I actually tried it in the last shootout we had with Florida as well. Tonight it went our way.”

It was enough to stave off Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris, Mike Hoffman, and Erik Karlsson before Wayne Simmonds slipped the game-winner past Craig Anderson in the fifth-round.

The Flyers are now the last team in the league to record a shootout victory, but avoid matching the recent streak of 18 straight shootout losses set by the New Jersey Devils earlier this season (dating back to the 2012-13 season).

So the Flyers will not repeat the fate of the New Jersey Devils and finish the season winless in the shootout, which is certainly a relief. And considering the fairly demoralizing last few weeks, it was simply nice to have something to cheer about tonight. — Charlie O’Connor, Broad Street Hockey

Philly was close to ending their 10-game drought earlier in the competition on two different occasions. Claude Giroux’s head fake was enough to get Anderson to bite, leaving space between Giroux and party time. But the captain missed, sailing the puck wide.

After Mason denied Bobby Ryan in the following round, Anderson was beaten again, this time by Sean Couturier. But instead of drinks on the house time, Couturier was was shunned by the post.

Simmonds, of course, would finally make Anderson pay, making the Flyers no longer the worst team in the shootout, as far as this season is concerned. Not only does Philadelphia’s 1-5 mark in the shootout match that of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings, it’s better than the 51-point Detroit Red Wings, who are 1-7 in the dangling litmus test.

And if you thought fans were stunned by a Flyers shootout win, the reaction in the dressing room didn’t stray from those who cheer them on.

“I almost forget how it feels,” said Voracek, who was one of the two Flyers goal scorers in the shootout.

Adding to Voracek’s reaction of being pleasantly surprised was Claude Giroux.

“I had goose bumps . . . to win a game like this,” recalled the Flyers captain.

The Flyers are now 5-for-24 in six shootouts on the season, while their best shootout artist – Claude Giroux – is now 1-for-6. Be that as it may, you take them however you can get them.

And even if it’s for just one night, we can finally escape that dreaded feeling that’s synonymous with the word, “shootout.”

Ec-‘Sens’- tric Tidbits

Clarke MacArthur’s Rough Night

If Clarke MacArthur continues to have nights like the one he had on Tuesday, it’ll go from Murphy’s Law, to MacArthur’s Law. The 29-year-old forward was hustled by Mason and his Flyers teammates, going scoreless on six shots and getting roped into a hooking penalty in the third period.

Jake Voracek Watch

It was another scoreless night for the NHL’s leader in points. After notching his 48th point of the season against New Jersey on Saturday, Voracek remains one point ahead of Dallas’ Tyler Seguin, who was thwarted in Columbus’ 4-2 win over the Stars. As mentioned earlier, Voracek did pot a shootout goal in the first-round against Ottawa. But unfortunately for Philly’s point-scoring extraordinaire, those don’t count in the official point totals.

Personally, I find that to be incredibly bush league. But only because it hinders Voracek on this occasion.

Michael Raffl, the Triple Digit Midget

Congratulations go out to Michael Raffl, who played in his 100th career NHL game on Tuesday night. The 26-year-old Austrian has blossomed into a top line forward, meshing well this season with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek. And soon, the second-year forward will truly be established when he can look at the center of the line he plays on (Giroux), and tell him that he’s played in more games than he has goals (132).

Bobby Ryan Comes Home

Cherry Hill, New Jersey’s own, Bobby Ryan, came back to Philadelphia for just the fourth time in his eight-year career. Ryan has yet to record a single point at the Wells Fargo Center, and is now 2-2-0 in the building that everyone knows he wants to call his own. The 27-year-old forward embraced his time back home, acknowledging a bevy of fans who told him that he was just swell.

Skate Gate, Chapter Four

Enough with the Flyers getting injured by skates trend already. Brayden Schenn joined Michael Del Zotto and Claude Giroux in the herculean skate blade injury club. In the third period of Tuesday’s game, Schenn was inadvertently cut by Wayne Simmonds’ skate blade, causing Schenn to immediately retreat back to the dressing room. Schenn did return, however, after receiving a few stitches. It kind of reminds me of when I accidentally used my Uncle Kenny’s razor blade when I was five-years-old.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Caps?

Now that the Flyers have feasted on their first shootout victim of the season, they’ll get to test their immortality against the 20-11-7 Washington Capitals on Thursday. Seriously, though, who cares about Washington’s 7-1-2 record in their last 10 games, or their flaunted 47 points? The Flyers have won their last three straight against the Caps, and seven of their last 10 meetings.

Another relevant and valid reason the Flyers should be heavily favored is Washington’s uniforms. They’re easily the worst in hockey. Is that not enough? Fine. Did I mention the Flyers won a shootout? Game over.