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Under Pressure: Steve Mason

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The 2013-14 campaign was very, very good to Steve Mason.

Aside from getting his career as a bonafide No. 1 netminder back on track, the performance also netted him a handsome three-year, $12.3 million deal — one that pays $4.1M annually — and cemented him as Philly’s go-to guy for the foreseeable future.

“If you look at this season in a nutshell, he was good when the team was real bad early in the year,” then-Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said of the deal. “And the last little while, as the team’s gotten better, I think Steve has played up and down a little bit. We expect him to get better over the next three-plus years with the team and grow with the team.

“He’s a good goalie, and we believe he’s going to get better. That’s why we did what we did.”

That last part is key. The Flyers expect Mason to get better over the life of his contract and next year, the first of the extension, he’ll probably need to be.

Defensively, Philly has some red flags. The club finished 20th in the NHL in goals allowed (2.77 GAA), led the league in penalty minutes and was shorthanded the second-most times (316), second only to Ottawa. While the Flyers’ solid penalty kill bailed them out routinely — the PK finished seventh in the NHL last year, at 84.8 percent — a couple of key performers from the unit are now out of action: Kimmo Timonen (blood clots) and Adam Hall (signed in Switzerland), who finished third and fourth on the team in total shorthanded TOI last season.

Timonen’s unavailability also accentuates Philly’s issues on D.

There are two significant problems: 1) the group doesn’t feature a clear-cut No. 1, “stud” that most elite teams tend to employ, and 2) it doesn’t have a ton of depth. Prior to signing Michael Del Zotto, Philly was looking at a top-six comprised of Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Braydon Coburn, Luke Schenn, Nicklas Grossmann and Nick Schultz. Del Zotto helps the depth out a bit, and the Flyers will pray their health on the back end mirrors last year’s (it doesn’t garner a lot of attention, but Philly’s blueline went almost injury-free last season. Streit, Coburn, Schenn, Timonen and Grossman combined to miss just 12 games.)

Hextall is trying to look at the situation optimistically as well.

“I like our defense,” he said, per NJ.com. “I’ve said it time and time again. We maybe don’t have that top guy, that No. 1 guy, but probably 20 teams in the league say the same thing. We’re going to go with the guys we’ve got.”

All of this, of course, circles back to Mason. As the last line of defense, he fared well last year and shone in his first playoff action in five years, posting a .939 save percentage over the final five games of Philly’s opening-round loss to the Rangers. But now, he’ll need to show year-to-year consistency — something that was an issue in Columbus — and carry the weight of expectation. When he arrived in Philly, Mason was a reclamation project playing on a cheap deal. Now, he’s one of the NHL’s 20 highest-paid goalies and will be looked upon to backstop the Flyers into a second straight postseason.

The last time Mason faced similar expectations was as a Blue Jacket, following a rookie year in which he won the Calder and finished second in Vezina voting. Things went south after that, and the Flyers hope they’re not in line for a repeat performance.

Red Wings get ‘ultra-fast, ultra-competitive’ Helm back in lineup versus Sabres

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 11: Darren Helm #43 of the Detroit Red Wings skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 11, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Red Wings 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Darren Helm is back in the Detroit Red Wings lineup Friday, after missing the last two months with a shoulder injury.

Helm last played on Nov. 15, and was initially expected to miss at least six weeks with a dislocated shoulder. According to reports, he’ll make his return to game action against the Buffalo Sabres.

The Red Wings are searching for a fourth consecutive win, as they look to gain ground in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

“He’s ultra-fast, he’s ultra-competitive,” said coach Jeff Blashill, per MLive.com. “I thought he had an excellent start to the year. It was obviously unfortunate he got hurt, but we all deal with it. The good thing with him is he’s such a skater and such a competitor that when he gets back into the lineup after a long layoff I expect him to be pretty good.”

In 17 games this season before his injury, Helm had four goals and seven points.

Jets rookie scorer Patrik Laine making progress in concussion recovery

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 17:  Patrik Laine #29 of the Winnipeg Jets waits for a faceoff against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on November 17, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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There was a positive development for the Winnipeg Jets and their rookie scorer Patrik Laine on Friday.

Per reports, Laine was back skating with his teammates during Friday’s practice, albeit while wearing a yellow non-contact jersey, marking another step in his return from a concussion suffered on an open-ice hit from Jake McCabe on Jan. 7.

“It doesn’t matter how long you’re out of the games. I’m still young, and I have a lot of games ahead of me. I don’t have to rush anything,” said Laine, per NHL.com. “It’s easier to work out now, and be able to go out on the ice with the team. Hopefully I can get back soon.”

Laine has missed the last six games, and the Jets have lost four times in his absence. There have been rumblings about the future of head coach Paul Maurice in Winnipeg due to his team’s struggles.

Selected second overall last June, Laine has been as advertised in his freshman campaign: A scoring forward with a terrific and accurate shot. He leads Winnipeg in goals with 21. Certainly, the Jets have missed his ability to finish over this recent stretch. But at age 18 and given the nature of his injury, it’s imperative he not be rushed back.

“He comes back in (Saturday) and if he’s right where he left off and felt good, we would start to push the heart rate a little bit and gradually work up from there,” said Maurice, per the Winnipeg Sun. “If he feels good (Saturday), he’ll get some light bumps in.

“He’s absolutely not getting back into a game until he’s at 100 percent and clear. And then I’m more interested in getting him in the next game.”

The Jets play the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, the Anaheim Ducks on Monday and the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

Injured Silfverberg skips trip with Ducks

Jakob Silfverberg
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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Forward Jakob Silfverberg will not travel on the Anaheim Ducks’ upcoming two-game road trip to Minnesota and Winnipeg while recovering from an upper-body injury.

The Ducks are leaving for Minnesota on Friday without Silfverberg, who was injured late in their 2-1 victory over Colorado on Thursday.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Silfverberg left Thursday’s game in the third period, shortly after a hit from Colorado’s Nikita Zadorov, and is considered day-to-day. Silfverberg’s head is believed to have hit the ice but it is not known if he suffered a head injury.

Anaheim recalled right wing Corey Tropp and defenseman Shea Theodore from its AHL affiliate in San Diego.

Silfverberg has 13 goals and 16 assists in a strong season with the Pacific Division-leading Ducks. The Swede is on pace to surpass his career highs in goals and assists.

Silfverberg has teamed up with All-Star center Ryan Kesler and Andrew Cogliano on the Ducks’ most effective line this season.

Pre-game reading: Is better ice the key to more scoring?

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— Up top, the resurrection of Alexander Radulov has been quite the story in Montreal.

Corey Crawford has an interesting theory on how to increase scoring in the NHL. It’s not smaller goalie equipment; it’s better ice. “I’ve always thought the real issue isn’t goalie equipment. The issue is ice. If you can make ice like the way it is in Colorado, the way it is in Washington, Edmonton — you make the conditions like that for every game in every rink, guys are going to score. … You watch a game where the ice is just horse[bleep] — it makes a huge difference. ” (Chicago Sun-Times)

— Speaking of horse[bleep] ice…the New York Islanders! Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News think the Isles need to see what they’ve got in youngsters like Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang. Kennedy writes: “Admittedly, I’ve only watched Bridgeport once this season, but I don’t think that giving them a couple of games in The Show would foment a sense of entitlement – think of it as motivation. A call-up in 2016-17 is no guarantee of a roster spot in 2017-18.” The Isles could certainly be an interesting team to watch as the trade deadline approaches. Veteran forwards like Nikolay Kulemin and Jason Chimera aren’t going to be part of the future. If Garth Snow can move their salary, or even part of their salary, it might be wise to do it. (The Hockey News)

Marian Hossa is the 10th-oldest player in the NHL. How has the 38-year-old winger maintained such a high level of play? The answer: Hard work. “He’s one of the best professionals, the way he carries himself, prepares every day,” teammate Ryan Hartman told Sports Illustrated. “He’s always here early, even after games he’s in the gym doing some type of stuff to keep his body in shape. The way he presents himself, it helps us young guys, for sure, to learn from him.” (SI)

— A profile of Nolan Patrick, the likely first overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft. Writes Postmedia’s Michal Traikos: “Some have called him the second coming of Anze Kopitar, because he has off-the-charts hockey IQ and already plays a mature, two-way game. With a dad (Steve) and an uncle (James) who both played in the NHL, Patrick understands the subtleties of the game. When he was 16, the Wheat Kings matched him up against Leon Draisaitl, who was two years older and already drafted, in the WHL final.” (National Post)

— Patrick was, indeed, the first overall pick in Adam Kimelman’s mock draft over at NHL.com. The second pick was another center, Gabriel Vilardi. The third was also a center, Nico Hischier. In fact, of Kimelman’s top 10 picks, six were listed as centers. While there may be no obvious, future superstar like Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews in this summer’s draft, there’s still plenty of talent to be had — especially down the middle, apparently. (NHL.com)

Enjoy the games!