Steve Mason has allowed four goals just twice in his Flyers career: on Saturday against Dallas, and on Monday against Ottawa.
It's up for debate whether or not those two losses were Mason's fault, or even whether any of those eight goals allowed were Mason's fault. Maybe they were on him, maybe the bounces are finally going against him, maybe the defense has been more subpar than usual, maybe it's all of the above.
What's not up for debate is that, for the first time in his 29 games as a member of the Flyers, we're seeing Mason deal with some level adversity.
It's kind of surprising that it took this long. For the four seasons between his rookie, Calder Trophy-winning season and his trade to Philadelphia, all Mason knew was adversity. He'll tell you that he probably experienced too much success too early in his NHL career, and that even as a Calder winner, he probably could've used some more minor league seasoning. He wilted under the pressure following that rookie year, and his career almost evaporated as a result.
He's seemingly turned the page in Philadelphia, and even his toughest critics have to admit that he's been a great goaltender here. It's honestly been a pretty shocking turnaround given his career history to date.
Bill Meltzer wrote a great piece back on Nov. 17 about Mason's turnaround, and namely how he's approached his game since the trade to Philadelphia. Here's a bit:
Goaltenders tend to have the longest learning curve of any position on the ice. Mason may have had a little too much success too fast with his spectacular Calder Trophy winning season in Columbus at age 20. There was bound to be some regression and, in his case, the regression was pretty severe.
During his struggling post-rookie years in Columbus, Mason still had to mature as a player. The fact that he had generally weak teams in front of him did not help a bit, either. One mistake would become two, and two would become three. One bad goal or one subpar game was more than a bump in the road. It was a harbinger of doom.
Nowadays, Mason seems to be the better for the tough times he went through in Columbus. He takes nothing for granted and he realizes that he has it within himself to overcome some pretty severe adversity.
But again, he's really never dealt with struggles as a Flyer. My big question for Mason right now is a simple one: How's he going to deal with inevitable struggles -- ones which might be unfolding in this current stretch?
As someone who saw the vast majority of his games in Columbus, I would caution Philly fans against getting too excited. Mason, other than his rookie season, showed that he was a solid goalie when there was no pressure. Every step closer to contending for a playoff spot will ratchet up some pressure on him, and he will then crap his pants at the most inopportune time for you. And, if/once the fans turn on him, it's allll over.
Philly fans haven't had the opportunity to get down on Mason, but we all know how this town deals with a bad performance. He's built up a cushion of good will with the fan base, but if he gives up seven goals in his next two games and the Flyers come out winless? Mason isn't the reason the Flyers lost the last few games, but if you've been a Flyers fan for more than a year, it doesn't take much to imagine the scenario in which Philadelphia turns on him.
For better or worse -- hopefully better -- I think we're going to learn a lot about Steve Mason's turnaround in the next week or two. Has he truly learned how to struggle, and come out on the other side a better player? Or will he wilt like he did in Columbus?