Monday, September 13, 2010

Time to step up: Steve Mason

  • Goalie
  • 22 years old, 3rd year in National Hockey League
  • $905,000 cap hit 
  • 1.5% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of this season
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 58 games played, 20 wins, 26 losses, 9 OT losses, 163 goals against, 1,653 shots against, .901 save percentage, 3.06 goals against average
Watch out for the glove side high, Steve.
Everyone's aiming for it!
I've read all of the other season previews about Steve Mason, and I respectfully disagree with them.  And by that, I mean pretty much all of them.

You see, I firmly believe that Steve Mason already IS back.  

In fact, I'll take it a step further.  He started his comeback last year...probably around late October when Columbus Blue Jackets goalie consultant Dave Rook started talking to the media on the record about Mase's shortcomings.  But mid-season turnarounds take time and don't always work great.  Ask Mike Commodore.  

Then, on December 1, 2009 (December!  Two months BEFORE the Olympic break!), Mason gave this amazing gem of a performance: An eleven-round shootout against the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks:

You watch that, and two things come immediately to mind:
  1. Mase has it.  He never lost it.  He may have been out of shape coming into last season - and it clearly took some time for that to get rectified - but he's got the acumen to play goal in the National Hockey League for a long time.  
  2. Catch the tail-end of that video and tell me that he is not a ferocious competitor.  Then tell the goal pipes.  And then tell the dasher boards.  In this case, he was let down by his team, having made save after save (many of them downright incredible).  But he stood out there, turning away shot after shot, exhorting his teammates to give him just one goal.
And there's tangible proof that Mason improved at the end of 09-10.  Remember that, in the last two months of the season, Mase posted a 2.57 GAA and a .923 save percentage (per the Dispatch).  Put it in perspective: A .923 save percentage would have been sixth-best in the NHL last season.  A 2.57 GAA would have tied him with Roberto Luongo for 19th-best.  (RotoTimes suggests that a 2.57/.923 combination probably would have been good enough to get the CBJ into the playoffs last year.  Mull that one over for a meaningful goal support, a M*A*S*H unit of a defense, and Mase could have once again put the team over the hump.  Wow...)  That, behind a team sporting a blue line that didn't have Jan Hejda and Rusty Klesla by the last couple months of the season and instead fielded the likes of AHLer Grant Clitsome, a still-rehabbing Mike Commodore and a war-weary Fedor Tyutin, all trying to help push the puck up the ice under an interim head coach who was trying to make an impression on management.

He's young, he's talented...and he knew
his game had to rise to help his team.
Can that carry into 2010-2011?
The recent success of teams like the Detroit Red Wings, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers suggests that the performance of a goalie on a playoff-contending team probably has just a little to do with the performance of the defensemen in front of him.  And let's face it, Mase's blueline support diminished as the season moved on...yet his performance improved?  Yeah, he was rounding back into form.

Now word is coming out that Steve Mason has been working out hard this offseason, trimming down and making sure he's ready to start 2010-2011 with no letdown like we witnessed last season.  He's been working out with Rick Nash and (now-Canuck) Raffi Torres in Toronto over the summer, and I presume that The Captain wouldn't train at anything less than the top level.  (He'd better not...!)  So let's guess that he's going to be pretty close to game shape coming into camp, having been peppered with Nash and Raffi shots since June-July.

Lest you think that I'm going to suggest that Steve Mason already "stepped up," I won't say that.  He's a very young player.  He has to prove himself to the league all over again after falling down in the wake of his Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year.  He's already talking to Scott Howson and the Blue Jackets about a new contract once his entry-level deal expires at the end of the season.  He's an inconsistent product on the ice right now.

It's his challenge to step up and consistently be the dominant force in the crease that we have seen...every now and then.

Like the night he shut out Alexander Ovechkin on twelve shots.  And the entire Washington Capitals on 45 shots.  In the same night.

Or the night that he stopped 10 shootout attempts by the to-be-Stanley Cup champs, waiting for goal support that never came.

Mase can do it.  He's a special one.  He just needs to step up and BE it.

1 comment:

  1. Iif you include the games between when Hitchock was fired and the Olympic break to those last two months?

    Mason's numbers are actually a 2.23 GAA and a -.934- save percentage.

    Just think about that for a minute.

    I'm really, really excited for what he's going to do this year.


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