Photo Credit: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images
It’s time to get our season previews underway and what better way to start it then to take a look at the position that has the least number of players: goalies!
Instead of the norm of doing a player by player preview for the upcoming season, we’re condensing it into a few articles looking at the different areas of the game: offense, defense, goaltending, special teams, coaching. In each article we’ll look at each player available for that position and how we at The Predatorial feel they are going to do in the shotgun season we are about to see commenced.
Nashville has been fortunate to be graced with the presence of an All-World starting goaltender in Pekka Rinne and a class-act, very capable backup in Chris Mason. With Anders Lindback traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning prior to Free Agency this summer, Nashville’s signing of Mason on July 1st was arguably their best move of Free Agency as a whole.
That being said, how will both actually look in the upcoming season? With Rinne’s sub-par performance in the KHL and Mason training away here in the Music City, it’ll be interesting to see exactly how ready both are for the upcoming season here in just about one week’s time. However, let’s take a look at what we saw and what we can look forward to for both goaltenders.
Since departing the Predators initially after the 2008 season, Mason has served 2 years in St. Louis before signing with Atlanta and then being shuffled to Winnipeg. Last year saw Mason play with the Winnipeg Jets organization in their first full season in Winnipeg after moving from Atlanta. The then-Jets netminder finished the season with a 8-7-1 record, a .898 Sv%, and a 2.59 GAA with 2 shutouts.
Mason fought for playing time in net with Ondrej Pavelec, yet Mason’s departure from the Jets benefited the Predators on Day 1 of Free Agency this past summer. With the addition of Mason to the Predators lineup, Nashville adds a sure-fire steady backup goaltender to compliment Pekka Rinne whenever the need should arise. Mason is familiar with the Predators system and with it’s goaltending coach Mitch Korn, so having him in the familiar back-up role in the lineup is more of a bonus than most people imagine.
While I would figure 80-90% of the games this season will be played by Pekka Rinne, having a sturdy backup like Chris Mason will be advantageous for the Predators whenever Rinne needs a break or becomes a bit overplayed. With a short 48 game season to be played in just a span of around 3 months, having a capable backup is an absolute necessity.
The Finnish netmonster had such a lackluster performance over in the KHL during the lockout, it’s already being forgotten about by nearly everyone. However, the facts still remain:
9-11-2, .897 Save Percentage, 3.08 GAA, and one shutout
Not the kind of numbers we’d expect from a goaltender that has yet to fall under a .911 Sv% in the NHL and hasn’t had higher than a 2.53 GAA either, which both of those came in his “worst” season with the Predators. “Worst” being a very subjective term when your stats look like this for that year (2009-2010):
32-16-5, .911 Save Percentage, 2.53 GAA, and seven shutouts
Now, while I’m simply attributing his KHL play as “going through the motions” and not having the defense in front of him that he will here in Nashville, I fully expect the Pekka Rinne that we all know and are used to seeing emerge to lead the way for the Predators during this shortened season. All time for Nashville, Rinne has been absolutely superb:
138-72-26, .921 Sv%, 2.35 GAA, and twenty-three shutouts.
This includes a record of 43-18-8 last year, with a .923 Sv% and a 2.39 GAA with 5 shutouts. To state it simply: The Predators need Pekka Rinne to be on top of his game when the season begins. If the Predators falter, then the season could be lost very quickly. If the Predators start out with a hot stretch, then a divisional title isn’t out of the question.
Ultimately, it all comes down to goaltending with Pekka Rinne being the centerpiece of the organization.
GOALTENDING PRE-SEASON GRADE: A
How many teams in the NHL have a goaltending pair like Rinne/Mason that can pretty much handle anything thrown their way? Not many. Because of this, Nashville is set up to have a great chance of success this season. Only a full collapse of both goaltenders will be the demise of the Preds (in my opinion), something I honestly don’t see happening