An Early Picture of the Flyers Lineup

Could French import P.E. Bellemare be the next Raffl?

Could French winger P.E. Bellemare be the next Michael Raffl?

At first glance it may appear to casual observers as if Flyers rookie General Manager Ron Hextall has done little to alter the club during his inaugural summer at the helm.  After all, this is a franchise famous for their affinity towards splashy, headline-grabbing moves.  But even though things were uncharacteristically quiet on Broad Street this off-season that doesn’t necessarily mean the Flyers won’t be different in 2014-2015.  Of course, change doesn’t always guarantee success.

The most noteworthy modification for the orange and black happened in the front office where longtime GM Paul Holmgren was “promoted” to team President, while Ron Hextall assumed control of all hockey related decisions.  This reshuffling of the company deck was probably done for two reasons: the first of which was so that owner Ed Snider could save face by not having to fire a true company man in Holmgren- 9 years as a Flyer forward, 5 seasons as Flyers coach, and 14 more as a team executive.  And the second, and most important factor, was so that another organization would not poach Hextall away.  After all, the Flyers new GM is one of the brightest young executives in the game.

In a short time since the change the organizational philosophy has shifted dramatically.  Whereas Holmgren focused primarily on quick fixes with big-name acquisitions, Hextall has made it abundantly clear that the Philadelphia Flyers will now approach the future with a renewed focus on prospect development.  Unlike his predecessors, the former Philadelphia goaltender has refused to deal away blue chip prospects or high draft picks for established veterans.  This cautious, more deliberate direction is the reason behind the least-eventful summer in recent memory.  Though a lack of cap space has also handcuffed the Flyers, to a degree.

Kimmo Timonen's hockey career appears over following the discovery of multiple blood clots.

Kimmo Timonen’s hockey career appears over following the discovery of multiple blood clots.

Unfortunately, the organization begins this new era with the unenviable task of supplanting two longtime stalwarts.  Acquired in the same trade with Nashville prior to the 07-08 season, both winger Scott Hartnell (trade) and defender Kimmo Timonen (blood clots) find themselves unceremoniously on the outs.  The longtime fan favorites and close friends will not be easily replaced.   The Flyers also said goodbye to the likes of Erik Gustafsson (D), Hal Gill (D), and Adam Hall (F).

In their stead the team made several  low-profile acquisitions.  First, in the Hartnell trade, the Flyers recouped a player who originally began his career with this organization: R.J. Umberger.  Though slightly less productive than Hartnell, the 32-year old forward is more mobile and far more versatile.  Umberger can play all three forward positions, kill penalties, and contribute on the power-play.  As a last minute replacement for Timonen, following his surprise health scare, Hextall tapped 24-year old former Ranger standout, Michael Del Zotto.  Del Zotto, though coming off two sub-par campaigns, has potential upside as a puck-moving, offensive defenseman.  Brought in beyond those two was veteran rearguard Nick Schultz (Columbus), rough-and-tumble center Ryan White (Montreal), and, intriguingly, french import Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

And since Ron Hextall has made it clear that the future of the franchise starts with the farm system, it should come as no surprise that several prospects have a shot at the opening night roster.  Even if those shots are quite long.  At the top of the list is 2012 first-rounder, center Scott Laughton.  At 20 years of age, and following his third straight highly productive season with the Oshawa Generals, Laughton will either win a spot with the Flyers or report to the Phantoms for seasoning in the AHL.

So where do these changes leave the Flyers roster for the upcoming season?  Let’s first take a look into the potential forward arrangements:

1st line: (LW) Michael Raffl, (C) Claude Giroux. (RW) Jakub Voracek– The combination of Giroux and Voracek has been the clubs most dangerous for two seasons now.  And before his departure, Hartnell was often found on the lines left side.  With Hartnell now serving the division rival Blue Jackets, one of the main candidates to fill the vacancy is Raffl.  The 25-year old Austrian didn’t show a ton of offensive pop in his rookie campaign (9 goals) but he was also adjusting to the North American game and has exceptional defensive instincts.  Playing alongside two elite setup-men, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Raffl could step up and produce 18-20 goals while still maintaining his important defensive role.

2nd line: (LW) Brayden Schenn, (C) Vincent Lecavalier, (RW) Wayne Simmonds– This is where things start to get tricky for head coach Craig Berube.  Last season Lecavalier’s poor play outside of the center spot proved that he must be in the middle to come anywhere close to living up to his paycheck.  Unfortunately, Berube demands defensive accountability, which isn’t Vinny’s strong suit.  It’s probable this line gets switched around a lot throughout the season but for now this is an okay bet.  Schenn finally reached the 20-goal plateau a season ago, but he left plenty of room for improvement.  Simmonds was an absolute warrior (29 goals, 6o pts) a season ago and should produce similar numbers, no matter the line.  Dealing Lecavalier would be ideal but as long as he’s in orange and black he should be given a look in the top-6.

3rd line: (LW) R.J. Umberger, (C) Sean Couturier, (RW) Matt Read–  Read and Couturier have proven to be one of the top two-way duos in the entire NHL.  Add in Umberger, who has a similar skill set, and the Flyers could have one of the best shutdown lines around.  Couturier, just 21, is already a Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) candidate.  If his offensive game catches up he could be the next Patrice Bergeron.  Read can be penciled in for 20+ goals and plenty of PK/PP time.  Umberger may be used on the 1st or 2nd line, because of his versatility, but he projects as an excellent option for this trio.

4th line: (LW) P.E. Bellemare, (C) Ryan White, (RW) Zac Rinaldo– Berube and Hextall have a lot of choices for the 4th line.  It will be tempting to give Laughton the center job but he’d be better served playing more than 8-10 minutes a night.  That leaves White as the leading candidate.  He’s an irritating presence, a good hitter, and a solid face-off man.  At right wing, Rinaldo should be the guy.  Two seasons ago he was a disruptive ball of energy who managed to draw more penalties than he took.  This past season he fell into his old, undisciplined ways and it made him far less effective.  If he wants to continue being the Flyers main pest he must return to his 12-13 form.  Like I said above, Bellemare is a real wildcard.  He’s 29-years old, has never played in North America, and doesn’t do anything exceptionally well.  However, he’s a solid two-way winger with good speed and above-average offensive upside.  If he doesn’t win the job it could go to someone like Jay Rosehill, an old-school, goon-type.  But that’s hardly ideal.

As complicated as the forward picture may look, it might be just as difficult to figure out the defensive pairings.  Losing a presence like Timonen, along with having only one right-handed shot (L. Schenn), leaves some questions for Berube to answer.  In order for the Flyers to be successful their weak D-corps must be assisted by the forwards and probably bailed out by goaltender Steve Mason.  Anyway, here’s a potential look at the Flyers top-six defenders:

1st PairingAndrew MacDonald- Brayden Coburn– Without Timonen, Coburn is arguably the Flyers top shutdown defenseman.  And that’s hardly a  comforting thought.  Coburn has an exceptional size-speed combination but he’s never been able to be a complete package.  He’s extremely streaky and sometimes makes mind-numbing decisions under pressure.  Still, he’s the best they have.  Despite the advanced stats community berating MacDonald as one of the league’s worst, he is an above-average blueliner.  He turns the puck over too much but he brings necessary mobility to the blueline.  He can play both PP and PK minutes, however the more he’s on the ice the more he can be exposed.  This clearly isn’t an ideal shutdown pairing but Berube has been quoted as liking these two together.

2nd PairingMark Streit- Nick Grossmann– Streit was probably the only Flyers blueliner who lived up to his paycheck a season ago.  He can be a defensive liability but he is their best offensive defender and will take over for Timonen as the #1 PP quarterback.  The Swiss-born Streit should post similar numbers (10 goals, 44pts) to a year ago and help to fill the leadership void.  Opposite Streit will most likely be Grossmann, who is literally his opposite.  Grossmann is a hulking (6’4” 230) defensive presence with poor mobility and little offensive game.  Still the big Swede is the clubs best crease-clearer, a heavy hitter, and a quality shot blocker.  Since Berube likes to go with one puck mover and one stay-at-home player on each pairing, Streit and Grossmann are a solid tandem.

3rd PairingMichael Del Zotto- Luke Schenn– During the lockout shortened 2012-13 season it appeared as if Luke Schenn had finally started living up to his billing as a top-five draft selection.  However, last season he regressed and went back to making the same tentative mistakes that cost him during his Toronto days.  With limited mobility he must be far more consistent with his positioning.  When he’s in the right spot he usually makes the right play.  Schenn is a hitting machine and he must use that skill to help clear the front of the net far more than he has in the past.  Opposite Schenn is Michael Del Zotto, a former Rangers first round pick who has either been very good or very bad during his five NHL seasons.  MDZ isn’t a great skater but he is easily an upgrade on Timonen’s mobility (or lack-thereof) and brings impressive offensive instincts.  New York and Nashville stopped using Del Zotto on the PP, which severely reduced his productivity.  The Flyers will (hopefully) not make the same mistake, as he is easily the team’s 2nd most dangerous offensive blueliner.  He should get every opportunity to run the point on the 2nd PP unit.  Most NHL defenders don’t usually develop consistency until they’re 26-28 and both of these players are still just 24.  There’s a good amount of upside on this bottom pairing.  Veteran pickup Nick Schultz can step in if needed.

Steve Mason was the Flyers rock during this past season.

Steve Mason was the Flyers rock during this past season.

Unlike the rest of the club the goaltending picture is completely clear.  Steve Mason proved that he has what it takes to start 60+ games for this team, which is a luxury not seen consistently in this town for many years.  Behind Mason is Ray Emery.  Here is an in-depth evaluation of the Flyers net presence:

StarterSteve Mason (33-18-7, 2.50GAA, .917sv%)–  When Mason was first acquired at the end of the 12-13 season there were snickers from fans around the league.  After all, this was a player who had followed up his Calder Trophy winning season with 3+ miserable years in Columbus.  But since his arrival in Philadelphia it’s been a renaissance for the 26-year old.  For someone who stands 6’4″, Mason has remarkable athleticism.  He carried his teammates for long stretches last season and almost stole the Rangers series by himself.  In order for this team to be legitimate contenders they need an even better season from ‘Mase’.

BackupRay Emery (9-12-2, 2.96GAA, .903sv%)– ‘Razor’ is a mid-level NHL backup with deteriorating physical skills.  For spot starts he is a respectable option but if Emery is needed for an extended stretch the Flyers are cooked.  At 32, and with a history of serious hip issues, Emery has lost almost all of his lateral quickness.  If teams get him moving post-to-post he’s very beatable.  If Emery is injured or can’t live up to the job requirements, Hextall will look to longtime European vet Rob Zepp or 20-year old, top prospect Anthony Stolarz for relief.

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Out with the (Beloved) Old, In with the New (Unknown)

Flyers defensive stalwart is currently battling blood clots in his right leg and lungs.

This Flyers defensive stalwart is currently battling blood clots in both his right leg and lungs.

Throughout his miraculous 24-year professional hockey career (eight overseas), the diminutive Kimmo Timonen has battled countless ailments, sprains, fractures, contusions, and lacerations, just to name a few; but he has always come out on top.  Nothing has ever stopped the 5’10” 194-pound warrior from giving his all to complete the task at hand.  That is, until the news hit the presses on Tuesday afternoon that Philadelphia’s longtime beloved Finn may, in fact, be human after all.

After years of forcing his undersized frame through superhuman tests of endurance, strength, and determination, the 39-year old’s body can no longer match the youth of his spirit.  And in a surprising turn of events, it appears as if #44’s playing days may have come abruptly to an end.

It wasn’t a bone-jarring blow that did him in; nor a sacrificial torso donation made in an attempt to slow, divert, or altogether stop a vulcanized piece of rubber destined for the twine behind his goalie; no, this appears to have been nothing more than a spontaneously occurring episode of the human body gone amok.

Who would have thought that a professional athlete, in peak physical condition, would be subject to such an arbitrary, and yet dangerous, affliction such as multiple blood clots?  But that is the situation that both the Flyers and their linchpin defenseman find themselves in going forward.

Most importantly, are these multiple blood clots life-threatening? career-threatening?  Season-ending? Too many questions, little or no answers.

But despite Timonen’s salubrity, or lack thereof, the 14-15 NHL season will go on and that brings us to the question of what now to do with the Flyers already thin D-corps?

Welcome Back to the Metropolitan Division, Mr. Michael Del Zotto

Still just 24, the Flyers hope MDZ can recapture his former glory.

Still just 24, the Flyers hope MDZ can recapture his former glory.

 

I have long been one of the local Philadelphians who believe that the 24-year old, former Rangers defender Michael Del Zotto would be the perfect reclamation project for town often glorified for its comeback stories.  And with one of the clubs top-4 blueliners facing career-threatening health concerns, it didn’t take long for General Manager Ron Hextall to bring in the enigmatic young player on a 1-year, $1.3 million deal.

Del Zotto, or “MDZ” as he is commonly referred, burst onto the the NHL scene as a 20-year old rookie during the 08-09 season, as he posted 9 goals and 28 assists and was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team.  Just two seasons later he became an even more integral part of the Rangers dynamic defense crew as he managed 10 goals and 31 assists.

Stacking up statistics of that magnitude before the age of 23 would fast track most young defenders to stardom but a series of setbacks and miscues sent MDZ from blossoming star (mentioned alongside names like P.K. Subban and Erik Karlsson) into John Tortorella’s doghouse, Alaign Vigneault’s bottom pairing, and finally, after being dealt to Nashville, a regular on Barry Trotz’s list of healthy scratches.

It was a precipitous and unceremonious fall for the former first round pick, but if there’s one team in the NHL that can utilize Del Zotto and revitalize his career it’s probably these Philadelphia Flyers.

How the Blue Line Looks to Shape Out Now

Though the Flyers lose a ton of experience and leadership without Timonen in the locker-room, his time on the long-term injury reserve may actually be somewhat of a blessing in disguise.  I would never wish injury on any player (especially something as serious as this), but it was clear towards the end of the 2013-14 season that Kimmo had lost more than a few steps.  He was an absolute liability against the smaller, quicker forwards in the Rangers series; and it cost the team dearly. I was an advocate for letting him walk during free agency.

Now I’m not implying that a player (MDZ) with a career +/- of “-9” is the answer to all the Flyers defensive ills but Del Zotto brings a skill set that the Flyers blueline has sorely missed over the past several years.  Far too often this team has found itself pinned deep in their own zone because of a lack of mobility on the part of the defenders, but that should be no issue with Del Zotto.  He is essentially a fourth forward on the ice (which can be a double-edged sword).

Without Timonen’s lack of mobility the Flyers will now have Streit, Coburn, MacDonald, and Del Zotto, all mobile defenders who are capable of creating forward momentum with crisp and accurate outlet passes.  That will leave Nicklas Grossmann, Luke Schenn, and Nick Schultz as the steady, stay-at-home types.

One major issue that Head Coach Craig Berube will face without Timonen going forward is how the powerplay functions.  It’s probably a safe assumption that Mark Streit (10 goals 34 assists) will assume the role as #1 PP QB, while the likes of MacDonald and Del Zotto will battle to run the second PP unit.

And it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a youngster such as Union College hero/offensive dynamo Shayne Gostisbehere, slick Swede Robert Hagg, or steady two-way Phantom defender Mark Alt challenge for a spot out of training camp.

Although it’s never ideal to suffer potential career-ending injuries, it can be important to look at the bright side of these negative episodes.  After all, it was the New York Yankees removal of star first baseman Wally Pipp in 1925 due to a headache that led to the implementation of the mythical Lou Gehrig.  And the rest is history.  Of course no one should have any misconceptions about Michael Del Zotto overtaking Kimmo Timonen on the list of Flyers greats; but sometimes new blood is a necessity.

 

Friday Night in Philadelphia

Flyers on the clock at the 2014 NHL Draft held in Philadelphia.

Flyers on the clock at the 2014 NHL Draft held in Philadelphia.

Although the Philadelphia Flyers’ most noteworthy moves came at the beginning of the week on June 23rd, it was the 2014 NHL Draft held at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia on Friday night (and Saturday morning) that was the main attraction.  It was the first time that commissioner Gary Bettman and his contingent allowed the event to be held in Philadelphia, in front of arguably the most passionate fan-base in all of North of America.  And those attendees (myself, included) did not disappoint, and, in turn, were not disappointed.

Every single time Bettman, a native of Queens and orchestrator of three contentious lockouts during his tenure, stepped to the podium he was greeted by merciless “boos” that rained down on him as if he, himself, had single-handedly cost the Flyers a Stanley Cup.  I am in the camp of those who despise the evil tyrant known as Gary Bettman, but I must say that he handled himself very well in the face of around 12-15 thousand or so heckling spectators.

As for the actual draft, it was rather uneventful.  Even with the lack of trade movement that was promised by most “insiders” or “experts”(Pen James Neal to Nashville was the highlight), the actual event went off without a hitch.  Walking around the Wells Fargo concourse and finding yourself face to face with many baby-faced, future NHLer’s was quite a thrill and something that I will never forget.

Flyers rookie General Manager Ron Hextall had already made a splash earlier in the week by dealing fan favorite Scott Hartnell in exchange for the more versatile R.J Umberger and his re-signing of young 20-goal scorer Brayden Schenn; and despite rampant rumors about the orange and black being even more active on the draft floor (including credible whispers of trading for the #1 overall pick) nothing came to fruition.  The Flyers stood pat.

And with the 17th selection in the first round Hextall and his team decided to pick, from the the WHL, Calgary Hitmen defenseman Travis Sanheim.  Despite the shock amongst the Flyers faithful for not selecting the likes of Kasperi Kapanen (son of former Flyer Sami), Alex Tuch (a 6’4” power forward), or Anthony DeAngelo (the south Jersey blueliner), Sanheim still received a deafening roar of approval.

Philly's newest Flyers.

Philly’s newest Flyer- D Travis Sanheim

Though not well known amongst the mainstream (ranked #53 in Central Scouting’s N.A. skaters), Sanheim, much like Morin last season, was the fastest riser in the 2014 draft class.  Former Calgary GM, and current NHL Network/TSN analyst Craig Button, had him ranked as the 8th best player in the entire draft and even compared him to Ryan Mcdonagh at the same age.  Essentially the kid was the wildcard.  And despite a lack of fanfare, Philadelphia may have just gotten themselves a major steal.

Standing at 6’3″, Sanheim is an exceptional skater with profound vision.  He plays a solid two-way game and impressed scouts most during the World’s Under-18 Tournament in which he managed to notch 6 points in 7 games.  He may never reach the offensive potential that Ryan Mcdonagh has displayed in New York but he projects very favorably  as a top-4 blueliner in this league.  I’d compare him most to steady Blackhawks defender Niklas Hjalmarsson; nothing fancy but very few weaknesses.

In the following rounds your Philadelphia Flyers selected: #48th Overall- C/RW Nicholas Aube-Kubel  (Undersized, speedy playmaker; brings versatility); #86th- D Mark Friedman (Mobile, two-way dman with PP potential); #138th- LW Oskar Lindblom  (6’3” Power forward who wreaks havoc in front of net, had early 2nd round grade beginning the season); #168th- LW Radeel Fazleev (A teammate of Sanheim’s, this 6-foot Russian is a hardworking two-way player who could spend a few seasons honing his skills in Russia); #198th D Jesper Pettersson (Undersized at just 5’9” but still weighs 200+lbs; Flyers scouts describe him as “thick and feisty”, sort of the anti-Timonen when it comes to small dmen; more defensive depth in the system).

After being harshly criticized by most pundits for a complete lack of blueline prospects just a few years ago, things are now dramatically different.  The organization now boasts 6’3″ righty Mark Alt (expected to challenge for a spot in training camp), offensive dynamo and Union College hero Shayne Gostisbehere, 6’6″ monster Samuel Morin, two-way blue chipper Robert Hagg, and now a smooth skating, 6’3″ Saneheim.  In just two seasons the Philadelphia organization has rebuilt its defensive pipeline.

Like usual the Flyers followed their internal rankings rather than listening to the pundits who frequent NBC, the NHL Network, and TSN.  Hextall has openly admitted to the public (prior to the draft) that the best way to build a true contender is through internal development rather than just throwing money at the problem in free agency.  And I must admit that that is a breath of fresh air following the regime’s of Bobby Clarke and Paul Holmgren.  Of course the problem with this approach is that Flyers fans will not bear the fruits of their labor for several years.  But if Hextall stays  true to his philosophy we should see a legitimate contender blossom within the next few years as all their blue-chip blueliners start teaming up with a forward corps that is just entering its prime.  Time will tell whether or not Hextall is the next Dean Lombardi or disgraced former Canucks GM Mike Gillis.  Here’s hoping for the former.

 

Up next: a breakdown of the Flyers current roster and what can be done this summer to take the next step.

Hextall’s First Move: Re-up Timonen

Kimmo Timonen will return for his 8th season in Philadelphia.

Kimmo Timonen will return for his 8th season in Philadelphia.

With the 2014 free agent class of defensemen looking less than stellar (severe understatement), newly minted General Manager Ron Hextall decided it was in the best interest of the Flyers to retain a longtime Philadelphia stalwart: diminutive blueliner Kimmo Timonen.

Timonen, 39, arguably coming off his worst professional campaign since all the way back in 2000-01 (while with the Nashville Predators), had been debating over the past several weeks on whether or not he’d return for one last shot at that elusive Stanley Cup.

When the news broke that the 5-time Finnish Olympian and 5-time NHL All-Star had been re-signed the major question was: At what cost?  After all, Timonen is coming off a campaign in which his 35 points and  poor decisions under pressure didn’t quite match-up with his excessively high $6 million cap hit.

Initial reports, both national and local, pegged the agreement at 1-year and $2 million; a coup by Hextall, according to most experts.  However, when the deal was officially announced it was, in fact, substantially higher.  Though Timonen’s base salary came in at $2 million, his new contract includes an extra $2 million in bonus money, bringing the aging defenders’ actual cap hit to an excessive $4 million; Much like Jarome Iginla’s $1.8 million base salary with Boston last summer that actually came out to a $6 million cap hit with all the incentives included.  Now that deal obviously worked out for Iginla as he reached the 30-goal plateau for the Bruins.  But with Timonen clearly on the downswing $4 milllion is far too much for an organization that entered this off-season with just under $7 million in free space to begin with.  This means someone like Lecavalier (good luck), Hartnell, C0burn, or possibly restricted free agent Brayden Schenn will have to be moved if Hextall hopes to make any significant additions.

There’s no question that Kimmo Timonen certainly brings value to a young and developing nucleus, but not $4 million worth.  He is a warrior, however even the greatest iron men begin to show sizable chinks in their proverbial armor as time catches up with them.  Just ask Cal Ripken.

#44 can still effectively run the point on the powerplay, but his decision making must improve because he no longer possesses the necessary recovery speed to prevent shorthanded breakaways.  Kimmo is still an important component in the leadership department, however, his voice may not be as necessary with the development of younger player like Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, and the up-and-coming rookie, Scott Laughton, who captained both the Oshawa Generals and Canada’s World Juniors club.

Kimmo Timonen will go down as one the best Flyers defenders of all-time; up there with the likes of Mark Howe and Eric Desjardins, but it seems that once again this organization went with nostalgia over logic.  With such a weak free agent crop it’s understandable that Hextall did not want to let go of an experienced blueliner, nonetheless, every athlete has a shelf-life and it just might be that this Philly legend has passed his expiration date.

Update: According to the new CBA parts or all of the $2million in bonus money can be counted against the 15-16 cap, instead of next season’s. That means that Timonen’s cap hit for 2014-15 could be anywhere between $2 and $4 million.

Mason Carries Club To Huge Game 4 Victory; Series Tied 2-2

Mason, returning from injury, recorded 37 saves in a 2-1 win.

Mason, returning from injury, recorded 37 saves in a 2-1 win.

We see it all the time in the NHL playoffs: a hot goalie stealing a game, series, or even occasionally the Stanley Cup for his respective team.  And on Friday night in Philadelphia it was 25-year old Steve Mason stepping up to rob the New York Rangers of what would have been a crushing 3-1 series lead.  Instead the series stands tied 2-2 following the crucial 2-1 victory.

The game started off in familiar fashion as the Rangers jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead on a 1st period goal by Dominic Moore.  But the Flyers, desperate for a home win, turned to a man who had not started a playoff game in five years, since he was a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  And Mason answered the call, shutting down New York for the final 55 minutes of the contest.

It certainly wasn’t an easy game as the orange and black were outshot (38-25) and out-chanced by a wide margin.  But the goalies were the obvious difference.  Lundqvist, though solid, was clearly playing second fiddle as he made 23 saves on 25 shots.  He allowed the tying goal to Matt Read in the first period, then was beaten for the game-winner by a Jakub Voracek deflection in the second.  From that point on it was the Mason show as he beat back a barrage of Ranger shots, including a diving stick save on Ryan Macdonagh to preserve the win.

The match-up continues on Sunday at noon (on NBC) as the series shifts back to New York for game 5.  If the Flyers want to pull out a series victory they would be wise to provide their starter with a little more support in the next few contests.  Mason cannot be expected to replicate his sterling .974 save percentage, but he should atleast allow his teammates more leeway than Ray Emery (who started games 1 through 3).

Notes:

  • Claude Giroux still has not scored a goal during the 2014 postseason.  Despite his play not showing up in the score sheet much during the series, the captain was not invisible during game 4.  He played solid two-way hockey and was able to draw a penalty that led to Voracek’s game-winning goal.  Still more is expected of the captain going forward.  But atleast he made good on his guarantee that the Flyers would tie this series up.
  • Speaking of stars not showing up, the Flyers have quite a few of them.  We aren’t seeing enough out of Hartnell, Lecavalier, Timonen, Simmonds, and Schenn.  Still, with the series tied at 2-2, it’s important to note that we still have not seen the Flyers play their best hockey.  If their goaltending can keep them competitive then their deep forward group should be able to grind out a few goals.
  • The Flyers aren’t the only club with key players not playing to their potential.  Rangers star Rick Nash has been essentially invisible through 4 games.  The guy has too much size, skill, and speed to stay silent, however, so the Flyers better be prepared for #61 in game 5.
  • Defenseman Nick Grossmann was lost during the second period after he went awkwardly, feet first, into the boards in the Flyers zone.  He limped off the ice and missed the rest of the game.  It remains to be seen whether or not he will miss Sunday’s game.  If he is indeed out then coach Craig Berube must choose between Erik Gustafsson and Hal Gil.  Gustafsson is the favorite to fill the void.