In last night’s Game 3 Flyers postgame, I outlined how for the Flyers to have a chance at pulling even with and eventually beating the Rangers, there will need to be serious improvements from their goaltenders–in both their performance and mentality. Whoever can make these adjustments should start in net for the Flyers. To prove who should start in goal for the remainder of the playoffs, Steve Mason or Ray Emery needs to improve their positioning, vision, and confidence. These issues can all be clearly seen during their starts throughout the season, and need to be improved.
The positioning of goaltender is key for vision and for making saves. In the Blue Jackets’ crucial Game 2 win and in the first two periods of Game 3 in the Columbus-Pittsburgh series, the commentators were gushing over how square Sergei Bobrovsky‘s (remember him??) positioning was. Every shot he was square to, he saved. Being square is key because the Butterfly is only effective if the goaltender is square to the player shooting the puck. The Butterfly is meant to make a goaltender big in the face of shot, and this does not work if the goaltender is not directly facing the puck. Mason and Emery both need to be more square to the puck when they play. This is especially important for Emery because he is not as athletic as Mason, but also because as I discussed in my previous article outlining the Flyers’ goalie debacle, Emery relies on anticipation for the majority of his saves, not acrobatics and reaction speed.
Vision is another issue with the Flyers’ goaltenders. Great vision-and superb goaltending in general- have caught my eye in this year’s playoffs, more than any other, because this years’ playoffs are showcasing some truly fantastic goal-tending from the likes of Tuukka Rask, Jonathan Quick, Sergei Bobrovsky, and unfortunately Henrik Lundqvist. One goaltender who always sees the puck well is Jimmy Howard. Howard is one of the most aggressive goaltenders in the league. This is apparent because most of the saves he makes feature him at the top of or outside of the crease. The Red Wings’ defense does a great job of either blocking most shots, or clearing a lane so Howard can jump up to the slot, be really really big, and eat the shot. Being this aggressive is part of Howard’s style as a goaltender, so I do not expect Emery or Mason to be as aggressive as Howard. Emery and Mason do not have the pedigree, confidence, or flexibility to recover if they are as aggressive as Howard is. What they need is for their defensemen to clear the crease and clear lanes for them so they can see the puck, be square to the shooter, and eat the shots.
Lastly, all of the goaltenders that I mentioned above have one thing in common. They are winners. They are all considered Vezina candidates each year, they have all been selected for their respective Olympic Teams, and they all consistently make the big saves that keep their teams in games. The Flyers need this star presence, this stoic net-minder who will make the big saves in the big moments of the game. The Flyers give up too many untimely goals that distance themselves from the win and kill any momentum that was building up. The late game goals by the Rangers were great goals, but the goalie needs to be better in these critical moments of the game. The Flyers need a clutch goalie, and Mason may be the closest thing that they have to one on their roster.
Because Mason is more athletic, is usually taller than and more physical with the opposition’s players in the slot, and because he as been clutch during the regular season, I would start him in Game 4. Claude Giroux made a tough claim after Game 3, that he and the Flyers would win Game 4 and go back to New York with a tied up series. This will only happen with a great goal-tending performance, that needs to be from Mason.