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February 08, 2015

Mason leaves game with injury as Flyers beat Capitals, 3-1

Another lower body injury for Flyers red-hot goalie

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The Flyers' playoff chances may have taken a hit Sunday despite getting two very important points in Washington.

Goalie Steve Mason, who has had his fair share of injuries this season, left Sunday's 3-1 win over Capitals during the second period after suffering yet another one. The team would only say it was a lower-body injury.

General manager Ron Hextall said the team would know more about Mason's status after he's evaluated tomorrow, but didn't offer much of a positive outlook for his starting goalie following the game.

"He won't be coming to Montreal tomorrow, so I guess it's that serious," Hextall told reporters when asked to elaborate on the injury, adding that he would be "surprised" if Mason returned at all during this road trip.

Since returning from his most recent injury -- he missed six games in January leading up to the all-star break -- Mason has been stellar. Prior to the game against the Caps, he'd played in seven games, starting six of them, and posting a .959 save percentage while leading the Flyers to a 5-0-1 record. Mason, 26, also missed four-straight games in December due to injury. 

It didn't look good, as Mason could barely make it to the Flyers bench, and had to be more or less carried up the tunnel to the locker room.

After the game, Mason was seen walking around the locker room, which seems like a good sign considering how much he struggled getting off the ice, but Hextall's words seem to suggest otherwise.

Before his early exit, Mason was working on a shutout. Backup Ray Emery was almost immediately forced into a 5-on-3 penalty kill, and allowed Alexander Ovechkin to score after the Flyers killed off the first penalty.

"It was a mentally tough game for our team," Emery told the media in the locker room following the win. "It's a tough place to play in...Mason goes down. There were a lot of chances to have a mental breakdown. I think it was one of our best games of the season."

Complicating things for the Flyers is the fact that Rob Zepp, who filled in for Mason last time around, was injured while playing for the Phantoms and although it's reportedly a minor injury, he did not travel with the team.

Hextall said after the game that Zepp would not be available for Tuesday's game in Montreal. 

That's not good news for the Flyers, whose game vs. the Caps was their first of a four-game road trip. They entered action Sunday 11 points behind the Bruins for the final Eastern Conferece playoff spot with just 30 games left to play. They're now nine points back of Boston, who host the Canadiens Sunday night.

Another option is prospect Anthony Stolarz, but do you really want him getting his first NHL action in this situation?

I agree. Stolarz, an Edison, N.J. native, was drafted in the second round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, and could definitely use some more time to develop before being thrown into the fire. In fact, Hextall expressed doubts that he's ready for the NHL.

"Is he ready for this level? Probably not," the first-year GM said of Stolarz after the game.

However, as the only other goalie the Flyers have under contract, Stolarz will likely be joining the team at some point during this road trip.

"I don't know if he'll get there by tomorrow," Hextall added. "They're playing in Hershey today, so that may be a tough commute."

Hextall let out a smile when asked if could come out of retirement to help out in net.

The Flyers could also trade for a goalie, as Hextall doesn't seem thrilled about having to call on the 21-year-old goalie, but he said that decision will have to wait until after they know more about the severity of Mason's injury.

Here are some other observations on the Flyers' 3-1 win over the Caps:

Where do we go from here?

As if all this winning wasn't complicating the Flyers' situation as the March 2 trade deadline approaches, the injury to Mason certainly does. This probably isn't the situation you want your rookie GM to find himself in, but at least he's getting experience. 

The players, however, aren't thinking much about that.

"We're in a position where we gotta win like 80 percent of our games," winger Wayne Simmonds said on CSN Philly after the game. "Every day, you gotta bring it. But we've been in this situation before and know what it takes."

Simmonds, who scored the game-winning goal for the Flyers, said he and his teammates are only concerned about what's being said inside their locker room when it comes to their chances of making a run at the playoffs. They could care less about what me, you or anyone else thinks.

"All that matters is the opinions of the players in the locker room," he added. "We don't care what anyone else has to say, what you guys have to say."

That's exactly the way it should be.

Simmonds' goal was his team-leading 19th of the season.

Big day for the D, PK

Whether it was before Mason's injury or after, short-handed or at even strength, the defense won this game for the Flyers. They held Washington to just 14 shots, including just four in the third period.

In fact, after Emery entered the game midway through the second period, he faced just six total shots from the Capitals, one of which was an Ovechkin power play goal.

The defense also came up big on special teams, killing five of six penalties, including over a minute of a 5-on-3 disadvantage before Ovie's goal once it returned to a standard power play.

Coming into the game, the Flyers were 28th in the league on the PK, allowing opponents to score 75 percent of the time. The Capitals power play, on the other hand, ranks third in the NHL at 23.4 percent.

Furthermore, the Flyers' first goal of the game came off the stick of Mark Streit, his eighth of the year. 

Flyers defensemen have now scored a goal in eight-straight games, thanks in large part to the great offensive play they've gotten out of Nick Schultz and Michael Del Zotto.

That didn't take long

Earlier Sunday afternoon, NHL points leader Jake Voracek was supplanted by Blackhawks' Patrick Kane, who had an assist in his team's 4-2 win over the Blues.

Late in the game against the Caps, it appeared that the Flyers winger would again be held without a point after he failed to score in each of the previous two games. But with 36.4 seconds left of the clock, and Caps goalie Brayden Holtby called to bench in favor of an extra attacker, Voracek slipped past the Washington defense for an empty-netter.

He is now in a two-way tie with Kane at 59 points, one ahead of Tyler Seguin of the Stars. Flyers captain Claude Giroux, who had a pair of assists in the win, is sixth in the league with 54 points.

Thank you for fighting

Flyers center Scott Laughton, who missed seven games with a concussion after this hit from Caps' Matt Niskanen on Jan. 14, wanted some revenge Sunday in D.C.

Therefore, he decided it would be a good idea to drop the gloves with Niskanen midway through the first period.

Is that really the smartest thing for a guy who just suffered a head injury -- especially since he said that the hit from Niskanen that knocked him out was clean, and even placed the blame on himself? Luckily his helmet stayed on and he didn't seem to take any major blows to the head, comparatively speaking. 

Perhaps the best part was Laughton thanking Niskanen for obliging him following the scrum.

Ah, hockey.