VOORHEES, N.J. — For Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth, there isn’t much room for error.
Make a mistake or throw up a clunker, and the net is no longer yours.
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Through 13 games of the Flyers’ 2016-17 season, that’s been the fair and performance-based approach used by head coach Dave Hakstol. In many ways, it’s looked like a take-the-job-and-run-with-it opportunity.
Neither goaltender has capitalized, leaving the internal competition as open as ever.
“We’ve got two good goaltenders,” Hakstol said following Monday’s practice at Flyers Skate Zone. “I think in both instances, if you look at what we’ve done so far this year, good performances have led to consecutive starts. Whether or not that continues exactly in that fashion, we’ll see in the future here. But you have to take it upon yourself to be ready to go and go out and do your job when you’re called upon.”
Neuvirth had strung together the most consistent run of either netminder as he earned three straight starts in the Flyers’ recent three-game winning streak. He wasn’t lights out, but good enough to warrant a fourth consecutive nod when the Flyers traveled to Montreal on Saturday to face the Canadiens.
The 28-year-old couldn’t sustain the momentum in a tough spot — against NHL-leading Montreal, which had lost the night prior by a score of 10-0. Nonetheless, Neuvirth wasn’t sharp in the 5-4 loss, opening the door for Mason’s next shot.
It seems likely Mason starts Tuesday night when the Flyers welcome the Red Wings to the Wells Fargo Center for the second time in seven days. If in net, this will be Mason’s first game action since Oct. 29.
“I haven’t played in four games here, so you stay upbeat, you practice hard and you be a good teammate — that’s really all you can do,” Mason said. “Some things are out of your control and when that happens, you have to put your own personal wants and needs or whatnot aside and just focus on working hard and trying to be as good of a teammate as possible.”
Mason understands the importance of every opportunity.
“You want to be the guy that plays night in and night out,” he said. “A lot of that is performance-based. If you play well, then you give the coach a reason to keep you in.
“Every time you get in the lineup, whether you’re a goalie or on defense, you want to play well because if you play well, that’s how you stick in the lineup. Everybody wants to play every game. It’s not fun sitting out.”
Mason is 2-4-1 with a 3.46 goals-against average and .878 save percentage. Neuvirth is 4-2-0 with a 3.57 goals-against average and .859 save percentage. Both save percentages are worst in the NHL among goalies with four or more games played, while the GAA figures are not much better.
Hakstol and teammates believe the Flyers must first shore up coverage in front of their backstops, but Mason said “it starts with the goalies.”
“Goaltenders can’t worry about what’s going on in front, we have to take care of our own stuff,” Mason said. “If we clean up our own play, the defense is going to be better, the forwards are going to be better.
“The amount of stoppable goals that have been let in, it starts with that. They’re momentum killers.”
Hakstol’s search for best fits among his lines continued on Monday with a few tweaks in practice.
Matt Read was up top alongside Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds, while Brayden Schenn, seeing more time at center, played with Michael Raffl, Nick Cousins and Dale Weise.
“We’re looking at different things,” Hakstol said. “You’ve seen Brayden Schenn up the middle the last two nights and he’s done a good job of that. He’s showing us that he can be a good player there, both in the faceoff circle, in the defensive zone as well as up ice offensively. We’re still looking for that chemistry to build in some other areas.”
The Flyers’ second line of Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek has remained the one constant.
“Bluntly, still looking for the chemistry in some of the other areas,” Hakstol said. “[The line of Konecny-Couturier-Voracek] has stayed together because that line has been good. That line has been solid all the way through, they’re generating scoring opportunities, they’ve consistently been good together. In that regard, they’ve proven they’ve got that chemistry and they’re staying together.”
Raffl, like many others, has swung from line to line. It doesn’t bother him.
“Sometimes you feel a little boost playing with some different players, get new energy, a little bit different style of playing,” Raffl said. “So I don’t mind it.”
“I try to do the same stuff I usually do. It’s not a big difference.”
Here are the line combinations from practice. Each of the bottom-six units had an extra man:
Matt Read-Claude Giroux-Wayne Simmonds
Travis Konecny-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Michael Raffl-Nick Cousins-Brayden Schenn-Dale Weise
Scott Laughton (LTIR)-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Chris VandeVelde-Roman Lyubimov