2011 Exit Interviews: The Last Line Of Defense

After a less than stellar campaign, Scott Howson trusted that Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon would improve in 2010-2011, making the decision to trust both his backup netminder and the former Calder trophy winning Mason, who he hoped would have a rebound after a poor sophomore season in 2009-2010.

Steve Mason - G

  • 22 years old (turns 23 at the end of next month)
  • 3.03 GAA, .901 save percentage in 54 GP
  • 24 wins, 3 as shutouts, 4 in the shootout
  • 30 losses, 2 in OT, 5 in the shootout.
  • 1,388 saves on 1,541 shots (avg 29 shots / game)

What We Expected:

After a 2009-2010 season that can only be called "rough", Steve Mason seemed to rebound after the Olympic break and finished strong, with a .912 save percentage and 2.97 GAA - not as good as his Calder winning stats, but much better than the 3.08 GAA and .897 he sported in the first 2/3 of the season.  Many thought that Mason was finally clawing his way back, and would be ready to go, able to backstop the team into the playoffs once again. After spending his offseason getting into better condition than he did between his rookie and sophomore seasons, we expected that Mase might be one of the top 10 goalies in the NHL if hecontinued to elevate his game.

What We Got:

Yeah, about that...

Though some of Mason's woes can also be placed on the defense, the fact is that Mason looked shaky at the start of the season, giving up at least 3 goals a game in almost every start in October (including the embarassing 5-2 home opener and 6-2 torching by Calgary), appearing to get things sorted out in November after splitting time with Mathieu Garon for a few starts (including his first shutout of the season against San Jose). He dipped again in December, getting pulled in three of his 9 appearances, and trade rumors began to swirl around him - particularly with Philadelphia. He started to come around in January, but still had some struggles until the all star break, then suddenly it was like the old (young?) Steve Mason was back in February, winning 7 of his 9 starts and bringing his GAA back down to 2.20, a sparkling 9.28 save percentage, and two more shutouts - one being a true historical moment, the first time a Blue Jackets netminder had ever shut out the Red Wings on their home ice.

Mason slumped again in March, though he also began to suffer back and groin issues that may have been part of the cause, and declined an invitation from Team Canada after the end of the season following his final two losses in April. 

Inconsistency is the watchword here - not a total failure, and with several moments of tantalizing success, but not enough to give him more than a C-.

What We Need to See:

If we had been able to keep the Steve Mason of November, February, even January, where his numbers struggled a bit but he still went 3-3-1 in 7 starts, I truly believe we would have been a playoff team. The team's slumps were not entirely due to Steve Mason, but each time he struggled, the team around him was unable to compensate - particularly against teams like Colorado and Edmonton who could use speed to bust up the defense in front of him.

Some of the outings where he took the loss weren't entirely his fault, and I think it's worth noting that Mase improved in the shootout after being utterly crapulent at it last season, but we need Mason to find his game if he's going to be the #1 goalie for Columbus (hence the need for a new, full time, goalie coach), or we need to find someone to step in and take over from him while Mason can be given time to develop.

With his new 2.6 million dollar contract extension starting next season, this offseason is going to be the biggest of Mason's career to date. He has to get himself ready to go, figure out the areas he needs to plug, and channel his desire to win into healthy attitudes and performances with the help of whomever comes into the organization to assist his development. We know that teams called Scott Howson with an interest in Mase this year and last season, seeing potential despite his struggles. If Mase gets off to a bad start again next season, you have to think that Howson may not pass on one of those deals a third time.

 

Mathieu Garon - G

  • 33 years old
  • 2.72 GAA, .901 save percentage in 36 GP
  • 10 wins, 3 shutouts, 1 in the shootout
  • 14 losses, 6 OT losses (3 in the shootout)
  • 799 saves on 887 shots (avg 25 shots / game)

What We Expected:

In his first season with the Jackets, Garon went in on several occasions to rescue a game after Steve Mason got off to a bad start, just as a backup netminder should, and ended up getting more than a few starts of his own. The hope this season was that he'd give Mason some moral support, keep being able to pinch hit off the bench, and grab a decent handful of wins in the last year of his 2 year contract.

What We Got:

At first, Garon seemed like he'd decided to take over the starting job from Mason, coming out and winning 6 of his first 7 apperances, and pitching a ridiculously low GAA, including back to back shutouts against Montreal and Atlanta, that got him named the NHL's first star of the month in November. Then, as the team began giving him some extra work, Garon faltered, going 2-5-2 in November, and Steve Mason stepped back in, reclaiming the starting job. Worse, Garon fell appart on all 5 games he was asked to come in as a starter or relief in January, going 0-3-1 with a 4.01 GAA, .862 save percentage, and one of the rare occasions where he was pulled in favor of Mason on what was supposed to be a night off for the younger goalie.

The slide continued for the remainder of the season - Garon would only get two more wins in 12 more appearances after the All Star Game - and a franchise that had probably been considering offering him an extension in the first part of the season is likely now drawing up walking papers instead.

The most damning stat for Garon is that in 23 starts against Western conference teams, he only had 6 wins, and none of them were against divisional opponents, where he averaged over a 3.60 GAA. Any netminder who plays in Columbus has to be able to play against the Central, backup or not, or this team won't ever get off the golf course.

Unlike Steve Mason, who struggled but still had some impressive moments, rising above his difficulties, this season seemed to be one of a slow, unstoppable slide for Garon - perhaps a sign that his time at the NHL level, even as a backup, is at an end.  D

What We Need To See:

If he's retained rather than released to the free agent market (which I'd call very doubtful), Garon needs to get back to being able to reliably pitch in, either by pushing Mason to perform because he thinks that he's in danger of losing his job (it CAN'T be a coincidence that Mason stepped up his game so strongly when Garon was excelling in November - he clearly thrives on active competition), or being able to come off that bench when needed and put out the fires rather than dumping gasoline onto them. (How many times did Garon give up a goal within a few minutes of relieving Mason? Not exactly a confidence boost.) 

Note: Since David LeNeveu only appeared in 1 game this season, he'll be evaluated with the team's prospects and minor leaguers.

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