Dr. Mason and Mr. Neuvirth

Much to my own surprise, my editor username and password continued to work for this site despite not publishing anything for 3 months. So, thanks for having me back!

To the surprise of no one, our Flyers are having an up and down start and fingers need to be pointed. Two popular recipients as to who to blame are the defense – whom deploys the services of Andrew MacDonald; so, enough said there – and the the goaltending.

The defense will be stupendous…one day. We must to temper our expectations for our rearguards and learn to live with the growing pains of Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov, as well as the old pains of  Mark Streit.

But the goaltending.

We are supposed to have the goaltending of present! In fact, for the first time in decades we went into this Flyera campaign with not only trust in our net minders, but we were even just in expecting above average performances. Alas, much like Charlie Brown, we try to kick the football that is elite goaltending only to have Lucy (aka, reality), pull the pigskin away resulting in us tumbling comically, dusting ourselves with nothing to say for ourselves other than, “Good Grief.”

So, what the fudge?

How can a goalie the likes Steve Mason be ranked as high as the fourth best goalie in the league by Nick Mercadante, also be the same subject of the many ‘What’s Wrong With The Flyers Goaltending’ articles (including this one)?

Even more vexing is that Mason has even shown genuine signs of improvement. From a technical standpoint, that game against Montreal last week is the most technically sound game that I have ever seen Stone Cold Steve Mason play.

If we watch some of the highlights from this game, we see that Mason’s head tracking is much better:

Just as confident as I am making such a claim, I am equally confident in saying that the game against the Penguins last Saturday was far and away one of his worst.

Okay. Well, Mason kind of sucks sometimes. If that were news to you, I’m sure you’d be shocked to hear that strippers don’t actually think you’re cute as well. So, what’s the deal on platoon mate, Michael Neuvirth? Isn’t he supposed to be the Ying to Mason’s Yang? That peanut butter to his jelly? My wife to the me? The thing that is supposed to pick up the pieces of the the crappier half?

Neuvirth has always been more technically sound but if it isn’t injuries that catch-up to him, it is his own battles with consistency. Consistency has plagued him ever since he was not able to win the starter’s job over Semyon Valarmov in Washington. Throughout Neuwirth’s career, either his body has failed him, or his mind would not allow him to take a reins of a net without relinquishing it.

What then seems to be the issue?

Mason and Nuevirth have both exhibited that they have the technical aptitude to net mind. Yet, both very clearly are struggling this year.

The issue can be surmised by this goal scored by Sidney Crosby on Mason:

Mason, is “technically” playing this shot correctly. He recognizes that Crosby’s shooting angle is decreasing and that his path would suggest that he is trying to get to the other side of the net. Mason responds correctly by dropping into his RVH, taking everything away low, and loading up on his horizontal leg preparing to push off to meet Crosby on the other side of the net.

At this point, some might say that, ‘Oh well. What are you going to do? That’s just Crosby executing a world class shot.” This is true, however, the only reason Crosby attempts that shot is because he knew Mason would predictably drop into his RVH. This isn’t a problem that only Mason has. If it were Neuvirth there probably would have been a similar result. Or if it were Corey Crawford, Johnathan Quick, or maybe even Braydon Holtby.

That being said, I believe that this shot would have less of a chance to go in if it were Carey Price, Henirick Lundqvist, or Corey Schneider in net. The difference between these three and just about every other goalie is that they will deviate from what they are programmed to do.

What am I talking about?

Some may say that goaltending is the opposite of easy. I would even say that it is, hard. Coaching and technique make it a whole lot easier.

The position is far from its dark ages of the stand-up style, and the mid-evil days of the blocking butterfly style seems like it were a lifetime ago. However, just because our present day goalie robots are programmed with RVH, head tracking, center-line, attack angles, and all of the state of the art puck stopping software, doesn’t mean that we have solved goaltending.

The consistency problems with Mason, Neuvirth and a majority of the league’s goaltenders is that they have become too reliant on the advancements of the trade and perhaps have become over coached. Maybe over coached isn’t the right term. It is more as if that goalies have come to rely too much on how they are “supposed to play” certain situations and don’t remember how to stop pucks beyond their coaching.

Now a days, we marvel at the “technical ability” of Carey Price as he redefines what athleticism is as he is never not in the right position. Make no mistake about it, what Price is, and what he is able to do at such a consistent level is truly remarkable. But what Price seems to understand on the same level that a Dominick Hasek, or Martin Broduer understood is that you’re only job is to stop the puck. Sure, coaching and new goaltending techniques are great assets in completing this task, but the difference between good goalies and great goalies is that great goalies will naturally deviate from their programming and rely on their instincts to stop pucks.

Consider this: I’m thinking of a goalie from the 90’s. He is a top 10 goalie in the league and is very successful at his execution of the butterfly style. Is this goalie Patrick Roy? Or, I am thinking of Jocelyn Thibault?

Steve Mason and Michael Neuwirth are struggling because they are far too reliant on how they are supposed to play the position. It would be willfully ignorant to ignore the technical influx of what present day goaltending is. That being said, it would be willfully stupid to ignore the creativity, the jazz, the art of breaking free from form to stop the puck regardless as to how.

If we do what we’re supposed to do most of the time than we will probably have positive outcomes. However, if we can’t find a way to perform through ambiguity and uncertainty, we will all have 3.80 goals against averages.

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