Mediocre goalies and world-beating play; or ‘Steve Mason for Vezina’ (Trending Topics) (Puck Daddy)
- Updated: April 10, 2015
Let’s just lead with the argument that no, Steve Mason probably isn’t a very good goaltender. But the evidence to argue that point is mounting. He started the week off right by beating the Penguins — and standing on his head to do it — as another lost-cause season in Philadelphia is winding down, and hey, at least they swept their bitter rivals. In that game, Mason was magnificent in stopping 46 of 47 and building his season save percentage to a staggering .929. As one of Mason’s harshest critics over the years, Flyers fans, who have so very little to cheer about these days, were glad to have a chance to gloat that they (by virtue of having been born in the greater Philadelphia area) were right about Mason ever since he was acquired from Columbus for a third-round pick. Certainly, it is hard to say with a straight face that Mason has been anything but spectacular for the Flyers since he came aboard. Through the end of that Penguins game, he’d played 117 times for the Flyers, stopping 3,136 of the 3,394 shots he faced. That is a very, very good number. In fact, .924 is so good that only one goaltender in league history has a career number north of it (the still-young Tuukka Rask at .927, which seems impossibly high). So the question is a simple one: Have Mason’s critics been adequately proven wrong by this run with Philadelphia? Flyers fans would reply with an emphatic “yes,” but the actual answer is a little muddier than that. The problem with evaluating goaltending performance is that it’s not easy. There are many ways to say that a forward or defenseman is playing well, or isn’t. You can look at points, and corsi for, and corsi against, and zone starts, and quality of competition, and so on. For goalies, we really only have a small number of data points, all of them dependent upon the work of the team in front of him to some degree or another. So conventional wisdom is that, because the Flyers are bad in front of him (they barely made the playoffs last year, and didn’t come close this year), Mason must be playing exceptionally well, both relative to the rest of the league — thus the sky-high save percentage — and especially in comparison with the dismal years in Columbus (a pathetic .903 in 232 games across five seasons). And to some extent this is true. Using War on Ice’s amazing Hextally tool, we can see that Columbus actually did a pretty good job of limiting shots in the middle of the ice relative to the rest of the league with only areas of rather low consequence seeing higher-than-average levels of shot attempts from Mason’s rookie year to the point at which he was traded. On these two charts, the redder the hexagons, the more shots he faced from those parts of the ice.