I figure that I would start the season preview off with the goaltenders. First to be yelled at when a goal is scored, and occasionally first to be praised when a miracle run to the playoffs happen, the goaltenders are the backbone of the team. In the past, the Thrashers' could be said to have had scoliosis. Kari Lehtonen, starter since 2005-2006, was prone to groin injuries and poor conditioning that hampered the team. The only year that he played a full slate of games, 2006-2007, was the year that the Thrashers finished first in the division and made the playoffs. Lehtonen's playoff jitters, coupled with former coach Bob Hartley's goalie-juggling, cost the Thrashers badly in that series.
Every other year that Lehtonen played with Atlanta, his flashes of talent that fit a former second overall pick weren't enough to overcome the constant injuries and messy play. As Kari went, so did the team. Technically, then, I suppose that means that the Thrashers should be in Dallas right now, but fortunately that's just the former goaltender. Don Waddell grew tired of waiting for Lehtonen to fully recover from a back injury sustained then re-tweaked in 2009. Lehtonen's off-season surgery was postponed far enough to interfere with his ability to play in the 2009-2010 season, and Waddell read the writing on the wall, trading him to the Dallas Stars for defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy (who later became part of the trade to Chicago for Andrew Ladd).
This left journeyman goaltender Johan Hedberg and young Ondrej Pavelec as the tandem. Pavs was seen as the new goalie of tomorrow, so when Hedberg had a significantly better statistical season than Pavelec, Thrashers fans wondered about the goaltending situation for 2010-2011. Pavs was going to be here, like it or not. His occasionally stellar play at the start of the season gives a glimpse of hope into what he will be like when he fully matures. He's not fully mature, however. Thankfully, the Thrashers got a teacher who is as talented as Hedberg and who is a better goalie - for about the same price.
Chris Mason could read the writing on the wall when the Blues signed Jaroslav Halak. So could the Thrashers, extending him a two-year, three million dollar contract offer. Mason jumped at the chance to mentor the young Pavelec, as well as join the new look Atlanta team that holds a great deal of promise. If Pavelec is hard to predict, what of Mason?
Just as hard to predict as the play of the goalies is who will be the number one and who will be the number two. Chances are far better that they will enter into a 1A and 1B tandem based on gameplay. Pavelec needs to make sure that his play passes muster, because in St. Louis Mason stepped in when Manny Legace faltered and played thirty three straight games to get the Blues into the playoffs. Where Pavelec is streaky, Mason is a workhorse that you can expect to deliver a solid performance night after night. Mason has a tendency to allow a soft goal a game (which appeared to usually come in the third period to most Blues fans), but as long as the defense limits quality scoring chances, he should be the goalie that the Thrashers look to for the long haul this season.
This year's tandem has the potential to be the best that the Thrashers have seen if Pavelec steps up the consistency and quality of play. At the very least, Thrashers fans are in for a treat from hard worker Chris Mason.