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Atlanta Thrashers' Goalie Chris Mason Loves Facing A Firing Squad

Chris Mason excels in situations where other goaltenders might want to run and hide. His experience, and success, in these high octane games makes him a perfect fit for the Atlanta Thrashers.

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For some reason, Chris Mason likes getting pucks fired at him. Granted, he's a goaltender, and goalies are a different breed. As goaltending great Jacques Plante once said, "Goaltending is a normal job, sure. How would you like it if every time you made a small mistake, a red light went on over your desk and 15.000 people stood up and yelled at you?"

Goalies are known for being cool under pressure and for being able to tune out everything else on the ice except for where the puck is. Goalies are the player on the ice that absolutely have to be in the zone. They have to stay on their toes.The best way to do so is by facing a constant stream of shots; if a goalie only faces 15 shots a night and none of them are quality, he'll become complacent and bored. Psychologically speaking, this can be explained in a concept called "flow." At work, if you are under-worked and under-motivated, your job performance suffers because your motivation continues to drop. If you're constantly overworked and frazzled, then, the theory runs that you'll be unhappy and your performance will suffer as well. The area between these two is the area in which you "flow" the best at your job. For most goaltenders that area is between 25-30 shots. They're not bored out of their minds, and they're not trying to think of new and exciting ways to kill their defensemen for allowing 50 shots on goal.

It would be easy to forgive Thrashers' goaltender Chris Mason for wanting to throttle someone after Wednesday's 55 shot shellacking by the Florida Panthers. Florida averages 32.3 shots a game, a total probably padded by Wednesday night, but that ranks them 7th in the NHL, and is right around the norm for a goaltender to face. Instead of being violently upset at the shots that he had to face, Mason had this to say:

"There were a lot of shots, but the guys did a good job battling,.Right from Game 1 this team has been pretty resilient. We kept shooting the puck and found a way."

Those of words of someone who either has the patience of Job, or who might be ok with that kind of workload. Mason falls into the first category, but he is also solidly in the second one as well.  He is 11-2-4 all time in games where he has faced more than 40 shots on goal, and four of those seventeen games have come already this season. Mason has faced more than 40 shots against the Anaheim Ducks, the Florida Panthers, the Buffalo Sabres, and the Washington Capitals, and won against the Ducks and Florida, while the Thrashers fell in overtime to the Caps and in regulation to the Sabres.

Mason also is first in the league in shots against at 394, and has allowed 36 goals. That's thirty five more shots than the number two on that list, Carolina's Cam Ward. Ward has 359 shots faced with 27 goals allowed. Granted, the high number of shots does tend to hurt a goaltender's save percentage and GAA (.909 SV%; 3.45 GAA) but in the games where he has faced more than 40 shots, he has allowed 15 goals. That might seem a lot for four games of work, but when you consider that's 15 goals on 182 shots, it's not bad.

This year's stats seem like an aberration on Mason's professional career, and they could very well be. That's something that goaltenders risk when coming to Atlanta. Johan Hedberg's worst season (2008-2009) came when he was with Atlanta. Last season he had a career best 2.62 SV% by the grace of God. Kari Lehtonen struggled in Atlanta as well, except for 2006-2007 when his strong play led the team to the playoffs. Poor Ondrej Pavelec, often touted as one of the best young goalies in the game, has a career .903 SV% and 3.29 GAA. Mason faced significantly less shots last year on St. Louis (30.2 SOG a game) than he has this season in Atlanta (37.6), so it might very well be a challenge for him to get his stats down to the level of the previous two seasons. If the number of shots allowed every game is an indication, though, the Thrashers should allow him every chance to adjust his game, and if his play when getting shelled is a sign, he should do so with ease.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.