The fourth weekend of the Thrashers 2010-11 campaign is upon us, and with it comes the fourth straight Friday/Saturday back to backer. Tonight will see the 3-6-1 Buffalo Sabres returning to Thrasherville for the second time in a week and a half. Tomorrow night will be in St. Louis where the 5-1-2 Blues will be waiting. They blanked the Nashville Predators Thursday nigh behind Jaroslav Halak’s 24-save effort.
Halak is now 5-1-1 with an impressive 1.55 GAA and .939 SV%. He also has a pair of shutouts as well. The Blues’ netminder has benefited from playing behind a defense that has allowed a league-low 25.5 shots on goal per game.
As we in Thrasherville are painfully aware of, not all goalies are so fortunate.
With all that in mind, as the weekend’s action unfolds, one place on the ice I’m going to be paying a little more attention to than usual is the blue area just in front of the Thrashers’ goal. I’ll be doing so for two different reasons on both nights.
First off, Chris Mason will be making his ninth start in ten games this evening. But in reality it will be his tenth consecutive game seeing how he played in all but the first couple of minutes of the season opener. He was, however, relieved after one period of play last Friday after Tampa Bay had built a 3-0 lead.
I’ve been hearing and reading concerns that Mason’s high GAA so far this season is the result of being overworked. As stated above, he has started eight of the nine games plus 57-plus minutes of the one he didn’t begin the game in. But it’s not just total ice time at play here.
The veteran netminder has had a crash course these past three weeks on just what being a Thrashers goalie can mean. Mason has had to face an NHL-high 311 shots during the first month of the season. Anaheim’s Jonas Hiller is second on that list with 294 total shots against…and he’s played in 10 games so far.
Third on the list, someone who is very familiar with this extreme SA/G dilemma…Kari Lehtonen, who has seen 283 shots so far during 531:49 TOI. His record is now 5-4-0 with a 2.93 GAA and .908 SV%.
To put the workload of Atlanta’s keeper in some perspective, facing 311 shots in 501:06 TOI is being forced to stop a puck every 96 or 97 seconds. And, if you break his ice time down into 60-minute increments, Mason has been facing 37.3 SA/G.
That’s way too many, (DUH5).
If I may take liberties with a line from the late, great Madeline Kahn in her role as Lili von Shtupp in Blazing Saddles…”Let’s face it boys, this goalkeeper is tired! Give him a break…don’t you know he’s poop?”
In contrast to Mason’s miseries, Halak has faced 179 shots during 424:36 TOI. That means he’s been called upon to kick out the puck once every two 2:25 or so, which equates to having just under 25 shots taken on him every 60 minutes worth of play.
Wednesday night in New York, though, the Thrashers did provide their goalie with a bit of relief, allowing only 28 SOG and Mason was able to turn aside 24 of them in the 6-4 win. This is made even more impressive when you considered that Atlanta was outshot 7-1 in the first several minutes of the opening period. They outshot them 26-21 from that point on.
Limiting the Rangers to but one power play chance certainly helped matters.
Then there will be Saturday night’s return of Ondrej Pavelec, who coach Craig Ramsay has said will be ‘tween the pipes tomorrow night. If so, it’ll be the first time since the young Czech fainting shortly after the puck dropped on opening night.
While very happy that Pavs is well enough to resume play, once back on the ice my focus will once again turn to his performance during games. Opie entered the season with some doubts circling around him regarding his NHL “readiness”, as his career 20-28-7, 3.32 GAA and .902 SV% would attest. But he finished off training camp/preseason on a positive note, stopping 28 of 30 he shots faced in Carolina in his last exhibition start and 29 of 31 before that in Nashville.
However, last Wednesday Opie played in Chicago during a conditioning start with the Wolves. He allowed 3 goals on 22 shots during the 4-1 loss to the Oklahoma City Barons. Not exactly the “springboard” one would want to re-enter NHL play on.
But I temper that with what the whole meaning to the start was for, “conditioning”… to see if he’s physically ready to play again.
Regardless, having him cleared to play again is obviously great news. The sooner he gets back on the ice during an NHL game, the sooner this whole bizarre fainting episode can be placed behind him and things can return to some sense of “normalcy”…for Opie and the team.
If nothing else, having Pavelec back will allow Ramsay to provide Mason with a bit of rest from time to time, as was the plan prior to opening night’s odd occurrence.