Steve Mason, Ray Emery

Pressing question: Will Philly get the goaltending?


One of PHT’s 10 pressing questions in advance of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs…

Heading into the Flyers-Rangers series, most pundits gave Henrik Lundqvist the edge in goal over Steve Mason.

Assuming Mason would be in goal, mind you.

That’s the big issue facing the Flyers right now, as Mason barely practiced on Tuesday amid reports he’s still feeling the effects of a collision during Saturday’s game against the Pens — putting his availability for Thursday’s series-opening game at MSG into question.

“I feel better each day and we’ll see how I feel [Wednesday],” Mason said after following Tuesday’s skate, via the Flyers public relations department.

He didn’t meet with reporters.

The injury situation added a deeper layer to the goaltending narrative. Yes, Mason had a very solid regular season and yes, he tied his career high with 33 wins and yes, he recorded a career-best .917 save percentage — he was quite good. But the last time he was also “quite good” was in 2008-09, the year he set all those personal bests and, not coincidentally, made his first and only playoff appearance.

Problem was, that ’09 postseason wasn’t kind for Mason or his former team, the Columbus Blue Jackets. Mason finished the series with an ugly .878 save percentage and 4.27 goals against average as the Jackets were swept by Detroit. It marked the beginning of Mason’s downward spiral in Columbus, one that finally ended upon being acquired by Philadelphia at last year’s deadline.

Despite his turnaround with the Flyers, some were still skeptical of his ability to carry the load — and that was before the injury issue.

Speaking of that injury, we’re not entirely sure what to make of it, but it’s worth noting Mason’s suffered two previous head injuries in the last three years. In 2011, he took a puck to the head in practice and proceeded to miss three games; a year later, the same sort of incident sidelined Mason for three more games late in the season.

Which brings us to Ray Emery.

The 31-year-old journeyman was a clear-cut No. 2 in Philly this year, making 28 appearances to Mason’s 61. Yet there’s something to be said for how much Emery played and the role he filled — heck, Wayne Simmonds believes the beating Emery put on Washington’s Braden Holtby back in November helped turn Philly’s season around.

All told, Emery finished with pedestrian numbers (9-12-2, 2.96 GAA, .903 save percentage), but does boast a pretty extensive postseason resume. In 2007 he backstopped Ottawa to the Stanley Cup Final and in 2011, was Anaheim’s No. 1 in a six-game opening-round loss to Nashville. Last season he won a Cup with Chicago, but failed to make a single postseason appearance.

So, back to the original pressing question — will the Flyers get the goaltending? Let’s put it this way. Given they only managed to score six goals on Lundqvist all season, they’re going to need it. If they do get it, it’ll probably have to come from Mason and for that to happen, Mason’s going to have to be healthy.

That’s a lot of convoluted ifs, but hey…it’s goaltending in Philly. Nothing’s ever simple or easy.

For more Pressing Playoff Questions, click here.

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.