New York Islanders' Cal Clutterbuck, right, puts the puck in the back of the net past Philadelphia Flyers goalie Steve Mason during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)

Flyers yank Mason hours after signing extension

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The Philadelphia Flyers took a chance that the Steve Mason of old wouldn’t resurface when they inked him to three-year, $12.3 million contract this afternoon. Especially after the Flyers’ experience with Ilya Bryzgalov, their fans have every reason to be weary.

That makes Mason’s performance against the New York Islanders tonight a case of horrible timing at the very least.

The 25-year-old goaltender allowed four goals on 24 shots to get pulled late in the second period of the contest.

Here’s the goal that ended Mason’s night:

He has now allowed at least three goals in eight of his last 11 starts. That concerning trend has been somewhat overshadowed by the Flyers’ recent offensive surge, but Philadelphia can only succeed for so long if they are often forced to net at least four goals in order to come out on top.

Flyers’ Mason named NHL’s first star of the week

Philadelphia Flyers left wing Michael Raffl (12), of Austria, congratulates goalie Steve Mason (35) following the team's win against the Nashville Predators in an NHL hockey game Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. The Flyers won 4-2. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
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Steve Mason is the NHL’s first star of the week, and his save percentage is still just .904.

That number tells you how poorly he started the season. Because the Flyers’ goalie has been brilliant of late, going 4-0-0 with a .945 save percentage in his last four outings.

Mason’s strong run of play started not long after Michal Neuvirth went on the injured list.

“This is the situation I want to be in,” Mason told philly.com. “It’s a workload that all summer long you prepare for.”

The Flyers’ five straight wins (Anthony Stolarz was in goal for the first one) have propelled them into the first wild-card spot in the East, two points up on the Washington Capitals, who are suddenly feeling some urgency in the playoff race.

Vladimir Tarasenko and Martin Jones were the second and third stars of the week, respectively.

After disappointing start, Enroth waived by Toronto

CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 30: Kris Versteeg #10 of the Calgary Flames shoots the puck past Jhonas Enroth #35 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on November 30, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Last week, Brough wrote about the struggles Jhonas Enroth’s had in his brief time as a Maple Leaf.

Today, the Leafs responded to those struggles.

Enroth has been placed on waivers, just four days after a 3-0 loss to the Calgary Flames, in which he was beaten twice in the first minute of the game.

“The first goal I didn’t get to my position and that’s on me,” Enroth said afterwards. “Maybe I was a little bit slow on the pass out. On the second goal it was just a bang-bang play. Not much to do there I think.”

The loss dropped him to 0-3-1 on the year, with a 3.94 GAA and .872 save percentage. It’s a stark contract to last season, when Enroth performed very well — albeit in a limited capacity — as Jonathan Quick‘s backup in Los Angeles. The diminutive Swede went 7-5-1 with a .922 save percentage, and was disappointed he didn’t get more opportunities to play.

“Just being a bigger part of the team is what I would like to do in the summer,” Enroth told the Los Angeles Times back in April. “I really thought they were going to play me more.

“If you sign a guy for $1.2 million, you’re not going to play him 13 games, in my opinion.”

Toronto signed Enroth in late August to serve as Frederik Andersen‘s backup. It’s worth noting that Enroth only received four starts for Toronto before getting waived, so hardly a huge body of work.

As for the Leafs’ plan moving forward, it’s possible they could sign veteran Finn Karri Ramo. Ramo suffered a season-ending ACL tear with Calgary in February, and has been practicing with the Leafs for the last month.

If Ramo’s not the option, the club does have Garret Sparks, Jeff Glass and Antoine Bibeau in the system, and available for recall.

Slumping Caps need to turn possession into goals

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn (55) knocks the puck away as Washington Capitals left wing Marcus Johansson (90) looks for a shot during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
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The Washington Capitals definitely haven’t lacked for shots in their last three games.

But they have lacked goals, which is why they lost all three — 4-2 to Toronto (35 shots), 3-0 to the Islanders (38 shots), and 2-1 in a shootout to Tampa Bay (35 shots).

And so the Caps have been left searching for solutions.

 

“I think we need to be a little more gritty, go in front of the net instead of all three guys trying to cycle the puck all the time,” veteran center Nicklas Backstrom said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “I mean, we need a least one guy in front of the net. Shots, rebounds—that’s the kind of goals that goes in these days. We have to be able to go in front of the net and go to the dirty areas and create second chances.”

He may be right.

Or, maybe it’s just been bad luck.

Either way, the Capitals have once again been a dominant five-on-five possession team this season, with a score-adjusted Corsi that ranks second to only Boston. But a quarter of the way through the schedule, they only have the NHL’s 19th-best offense (2.52 goals per game).

Last season, when they romped to the Presidents’ Trophy, the offense ranked second (3.02).

It hasn’t helped that Washington’s power play hasn’t been near as dangerous, with only 11 goals through 23 games. Last season, the PP had 19 goals by the 23-game mark. 

Individually, the laggards include Evgeny Kuznetsov, with just three goals; Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, and Justin Williams, with only two each; and John Carlson, with none.

For the record, Alex Ovechkin has 12, so it’s not on him.

Thanks to solid team defense and goaltending, the Caps have still managed a pretty impressive record (13-7-3).

But in case you haven’t noticed, the Metropolitan Division is starting to emerge as the new power grouping in the NHL, with the Columbus Blue Jackets suddenly a threat to take one of the three automatic playoff spots.

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The Capitals host Jack Eichel and the Sabres tonight. A loss to Buffalo, combined with a Boston win over Florida, and the Caps would actually find themselves outside the playoff picture.

True, Washington would still hold games in hand on most of its competition, so it’s no time to panic.

But it’s a wake-up call all the same. There’s a lot more competition in the Eastern Conference these days. Nothing is guaranteed.

 

Welcome Ryan Spooner to the trade rumor mill

Boston Bruins v Winnipeg Jets
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Ryan Spooner, the 24-year-old Boston forward that scored a career-high 49 points last season, is reportedly on the trade block.

On Saturday Night, Sportsnet’s Hockey Night panel reported that Spooner has been made available, and mentioned Vancouver as a potential landing spot. The move would make sense — Vancouver GM Jim Benning was part of the Bruins front office that drafted Spooner 45th overall in 2010 — and Spooner would fill a need for the Canucks, a team that has been looking to add goalscoring.

Spooner found the back of the net 13 times last year, largely playing on Boston’s third line next to Jimmy Hayes and Matt Beleskey.

He’s struggled to find similar form this year, though, which could be why his name is being bandied about. There have also been questions about his ability to fit within Claude Julien’s system.

From CSNNE:

Spooner has been pushed into playing left wing for the bulk of the season rather than his natural, preferred center position, and he’s been dropped to the fourth line by Claude Julien over the last few weeks. At times he’s also been pulled from the Bruins power play where he racked up six goals and 17 points working off the half-wall last season.  

Julien talked about the former second round pick in frank terms after this week’s win over the Carolina Hurricanes, which featured a Spooner snipe to the top corner during a successful shootout for the Black and Gold. 

“I think at times that [David Krejci] line goes quiet, other times it’s better. We’ve tried different guys on the left side right now and one [Spooner] might give them speed but doesn’t win as many battles,” said Julien of his search for stability at left wing alongside Krejci and David Backes. “The other way [with Tim Schaller] guys are a little harder right now, and they spend more time in the O-zone. So we’re really trying hard to find the right balance there.”

Per sources of CSNNE’s Joe Haggerty, potential landing spots for Spooner include Carolina, San Jose and Brooklyn.

He’s in the last of a two-year, $1.9 million deal with a $950,000 cap hit, so he would be affordable — that said, Spooner is a pending RFA that will need a new deal for next season, something any potential acquiring team will have to take into consideration.