OK gang, I have a trivia question for you. Without looking it up, tell me how many seasons have the Atlanta Thrashers finished with a 30.0 SA/G or less since the lockout?
I know, I know…most of you in the Thrasherville blogosphere can respond correctly in about 0.27 seconds…but for those of you that haven’t come up the answer yet, let me help you out. Hold up the total number of fingers that you normal display after you’ve been cut off in traffic. Now, take that finger down.
What you’re left with is the answer today’s quiz. Zero…none…zilch…nada…goose egg.
In fact, there has been exactly one time in the Thrashers’ history in which they have had a sub-30 SA/G for an entire NHL campaign. That came in 2003-04, the last season prior to the work stoppage, when they allowed an average of 29.4 SA/G.
Yes, historically the Thrashers give up a lot of shots.
For this reason, most fans in Thrasherville underline the need for a strong presence in goal. When news broke of the Chris Mason signing, most voiced their approval… even if it was coupled with a statement like, “But let’s see how he holds up when force to endure all the shots he’s gonna have to face”.
That’s not an unfair observation to make given the workout a Thrashers goaltenders can expect to get on any given night. As I like to quip, goalies in Atlanta tend to take more rubber to the face then a possum on a Georgia county road…they see more shots up around the eyes then an aging hollywood starlet.
But let’s see if history can be a guide when it comes to forecasting how Mason might hold up in what has proven to be in the past a very busy Thrashers goal. For this exercise, I’m gonna set the bar at 33 shots…roughly the average SA/G the Thrashers have allowed in the five seasons since the lockout.
Mason has played in 63 regular season games in which the skaters in front of him let 33 or more shots get through on goal. His record in those games is an impressive 38-16-9 with a .931 SV% and 2.50 GAA. Seven of those games were shutout victories, including a 47-save gem over Nashville in November of 2008 while playing for the Blues. After turning aside every shot he faced over 65 minutes of play, he then denied both shootout attempts by the Preds…including one by Rich Peverley…to procure the 1-0 victory.
Last season with the St. Louis Blues Mason was 10-3-4 in such games with a .933 SV% and 2.51 GAA. Four seasons ago while with Nashville, he compiled a record of 16-3-1 with a .940 SV% and 2.18 GAA when face with 33+ SOG.
In comparison, his counterpart Ondrej Pavelec…whom hildymac of BWA has recently posted a very thoughtful blog about…hasn’t faired quite as well as his new teammate. Opie is 11-13-5 with a .912 SV% and 3.48 GAA when he’s faces more than 32 shots in a game.
As I always like to point out, past performance does not necessarily guarantee future returns. Plus when discussing the stats of goaltenders, one has to take into consideration where the shots are coming from, rebound control and other factors. But having a man between the pipes who seemingly thrives when forced to face so many shots can only be a benefit the team.
Also it’s worth noting that, unless and until there is another trade or signing, the current Thrashers blueline closely resembles that of one that finished off last season…minus one Pavel Kubina and plus one Brent Sopel. Certainly there is the hope and expectation that Craig Ramsay and his coaching staff can successfully address the SA/G problem that has plagued the Thrashers for so long. But I think it’s a stretch to assume this current crop of defenseman can tuck that number under 30 this coming season.
And if the numbers of the past do prove to be an accurate indicator of what’s to come, then Rick Dudley’s decision to bring in Chris Mason will look all the much better given his ability to perform at his best when he’s called upon the most.