Goalie nods: Mason gets another chance to turn things around for Flyers

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The Philadelphia Flyers seem to have a goaltending problem again.

A position that was a constant problem in Philadelphia for years, the Flyers finally seemed to stumble onto something when Steve Mason arrived a couple of years ago and watched his career do a complete 180 from where it was during his time in Columbus. He immediately went from one of the worst performing goaltenders in the league to one that had consistently given the Flyers above average play for the better part of three seasons.

Along with Michal Neuvirth, he helped give the Flyers a pretty capable goaltending duo that seemed like it could at least solidify the position in the short-term at a cheap price against the salary cap.

So far this season, things have not gone exactly as planned in the Philadelphia net.

Both goaltenders have struggled over the first month of the season and enter play on Friday night with save percentages below .890 and have been among the worst performing players in the league at the position. That performance is helping to hold down a team that has been one of the top scoring teams in the league, is a top possession team, and is allowing the fourth fewest shots on goal per game.

Even if you want to argue that the Flyers defense — a unit that contains a couple of younger players still getting their feet wet in the NHL — has its flaws and can sometimes leave its goaltenders exposed, it hasn’t been so bad that the team should be 27th in the league in goals against at this point.

Again, this is a team that is one of the best in the league when it comes to limiting the number of shots their goalies have to face. Sure, there might be some prime scoring chances against, but that is something every goalie has to deal with in every system.

A lot of at this point simply comes down to the performance of goalies.

On Friday night in Toronto the Flyers are expected to turn back to Mason who will be making just his third appearance since Oct. 27.

They could really use a big performance against a young Toronto team that has quite a bit of skill up front.

The Maple Leafs will counter with Frederik Andersen, a goaltender that has had his own struggles this season.

Elsewhere…

— It is a battle of backups in Buffalo when Cory Schneider gets a rare night off for the Devils. Keith Kinkaid will be in the crease for the third time this season and is going up against Sabres backup Anders Nilsson.

Craig Anderson is back in net for the Ottawa Senators and is expected to go against Peter Budaj for the Los Angeles Kings.

Corey Crawford looks to continue his white hot play when he takes the crease for the Chicago Blackhawks against reigning Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby and the Washington Capitals. Crawford has won six consecutive starts for the Blackhawks while allowing just six goals during that streak. He has a .939 save percentage on the season.

— No official word from the Dallas Stars yet, but after Kari Lehtonen got the call on Thursday night you should probably expect Antti Niemi in the crease on Friday against Edmonton. The Oilers will go with Cam Talbot who will be making his 14th start in 15 games for the Oilers.

Semyon Varlamov will look to break out of his early season slump when he goes for the Colorado Avalanche against the Winnipeg Jets. Varlamov is off to a miserable this season with an .888 save percentage. He has lost five consecutive starts and allowed at least four goals in four of those starts. Overall he has surrendered at least four goals in five of his eight starts this season. The Jets have not yet announced who will start for them, but it could be Michael Hutchinson after Connor Hellebuyck started on Thursday.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.