NASHVILLE — Goalie Steve Mason, who has missed the last three games with an apparent back injury, returned to practice Saturday and said he felt "close to 100 percent."
After taking shots from the Flyers' extra players, Mason said he hopes to play Monday in Arizona.
"My goal is to play against Arizona; today was a really good first step," Mason said after a 45-minute on-ice workout Saturday afternoon in Nashville. "I think I got more work in than we had planned for, which was a good sign. I was moving good, and my energy level was pretty good as well.
"My personal goal is Arizona, but at the end of the day, I don't decide who plays," said Mason, who added he was "moving pretty naturally, so I'm not too worried about it now."
Mason was injured on what he called "a nothing play" toward the end of practice Dec. 20, falling to the ice in agony. "I've never experienced anything like this. I can't even describe the pain I was in," he said. "I was definitely worried worried for a couple days until we got good news from the MRIs...and our training staff did a great job of getting me back to where I was able to get back on the ice (Saturday)."
Mason said he put a "pretty good dent in my couch for a couple days" before finding out the injury wasn't serious. "I tried to stay poistive, and Jimmy (McCrossin, the trainer) was pretty open with what was going on."
Before he got the good news on his MRI, Mason said he feared the injury would sideline him for a long time. "From when it happened to the way I feel now, I never imagined I could feel this good as quickly as I did," said Mason, who was so sore when he was first injured that he needed help to get out of bed.
Ray Emery will start tonight in Nashville and will oppose the league's top goalie, Pekka Rinne.
Meanwhile, Nashville coach Peter Laviolette, who was fired by the Flyers after three games last season, said he only wanted to take questions about tonight's game.
Laviolette's Predators are 22-9-2.
"He's a great coach; he finds a way to get all the guys on the same page and kind of brings them together," Flyers captain Claude Giroux said.
The Flyers (14-14-6) won the first three games of an eight-game road trip, which was interrupted by the holiday break. Giroux said it was important for the Flyers to get off to a quick start Saturday to keep the momentum going.
Breakaways. Center Ryan White will be sent to the Phantoms Sunday for a conditioning stint....Zac Rinaldo, who has missed the last two games after being injured by a hard check in Toronto, said he needs more time to get into game condition......Perhaps taking a shot at the Flyers' unsuccessful bid to sign a certain marquee defenseman two years ago, the Preds will hold Shea Weber bobblehead night Saturday...Tonight will be the first time since the 1999-2000 season — Nashville's second year in existence — that a Predators-Flyers game will not involve Scott Hartnell or Kimmo Timonen on one of the teams....Jake Voracek, who leads the NHL with 46 points, has nine points and a plus-9 rating in his last four games.He is sixth in the NHL at plus-17....Giroux leads the league in faceoffs taken and won. He is third in the league with 132 shots, and is on pace for 318 shots — well above his career-high of 242.