Coulda, Shoulda,Woulda: Is Steve Mason Good?

(Photo credit: Amy Irvin 38 Photography)

(Photo credit: Amy Irvin 38 Photography)

(And now for a conversation between one of my 16U players and I about Steve Mason):

Player: Coach, did you know that Steve Mason drives a Ferrari?

Me: Yea, I think I’ve seen pictures of him in a Ferrari.

Player: How much are Ferraris?

Me: I don’t know…$3 or $400,000 I guess.

Player: (now visibly doing math in his head): How much money does he make?!

Me: A little more than $4 million a year.

Player: …BUT HOW CAN THAT BE? HE SUCKS!

Me: He doesn’t suck. He’s actually pretty good and is good enough for what the Flyers need.

Player: Coach, what does that mean?

(End Scene)

So, how do we know if Mason is any good?

Unfortunately, there is no Corsi (a stat developed by and named after a goalie coach), PDO, or Fenwick that can be applied to goalies. The mysticism that comes with being a keeper seems to extended to the stat line as well. But just because there’s no one agreed upon way to measure goalies, doesn’t mean that people aren’t doing it.

Steve Valiquette’s Royal Road, Chris Boyle’s Shot Quality Project, WarOnIce’s Shot Danger rating systems are prototype metrics that are being developed to evaluate shot quality and all hope to elucidate which goalies are good, and which are making saves due to enviromental factors. The problem with these scales is that they are either not publicly available, or not accurately quantifying goaltending ability. There is just too much variability in each goalie’s game in relation to team defenses, in relation to the manufactured bad bounces that goalies have to face to have a finite metric to determine if a goalie is good. This is why the eye-test plays a bigger part in evaluating goalies than skaters.

There is a method that utilizes both that was developed by Mitch Korn. Before I go into Korn’s metric, it’s worth taking a moment to understand who he is. Mitch Korn is the preeminent, Yoda of goalie whispers (stop the puck you shall). Currently, Brayden Holtby is benefitting from Korn’s tutalige and will probably finish in the top-3 of Vezina voting this year. Other “Children of Korn” include Tomas Vokoun, Pekka Rinne, and some guy named Hasek.

How does the sagely Korn evaluate goalies? He uses a simple instrument of Should of Had, Could of Had, and No Chance. Korn believes that a goalie should stop 98% of his Should of had shots, about 95% of shots his Could Have Had shots, and No Chance shots doesn’t really have a range; although, this is debatable.

Lets now apply this rating scale to Mason to see just how good he has been this season by stratifying all 45 goals that he has let in into these three categories.

(Editor’s note: it takes about an hour to watch all the game highlights that Mason has played in. I suggest taking the time to do so because this analyses is the product of one rater – me – that has biases, criteria and opinions that may not be your own. I’ve included the entire highlights so you can see how shots are generated, defensive breakdowns, and get a better sense of Mason’s brand of goaltending)

No Chance Goals: These are goals that get scored that no one gets mad at the goalie for letting in because they are the result of a screen, tips, odd man rushes (breakaways not included), Ovechkin one-timers, and/or Malkin bar down-back hand- spin moves. Stuff that just can’t be reasonably expected to stop.

You’ll see Travis Zajac score a backdoor goal at the 1:16 mark. Put simply, this goal is the result of a defensive breakdown in which Mason has no chance to make a save on Zajac who essentially is on a 10ft 2-on-1.

Could of Had: These are goals that get scored that aren’t necessarily the goalies fault but are also not necessarily the fault of the defense either. 30 seconds into this highlight we’ll see Jannik Hanson score a goal that at first glance appears to be a goal that is the result of a solid pass on a mini 2-on-1, and pretty decent dangle from Hanson; Mason has no chance, right?

Wrong!

Mason has enough time to square up to Hanson and could have made a save if he didn’t fall for Hanson’s forehand-backhand move harder than an infant who just had his nose stolen by his uncle. Assuming that Hanson doesn’t fake to the middle on the backhand and continues to try to beat Mason short side while remaining on his forehand, there is no reason for Mason to overplay his post and slide out of the frame. So, I will contend that this is a difficult situation, but it wasn’t one where it was impossible for Mason to make a save.

Should of Had: Think Michael Leighton against Patrick Kane in Game 6 of the 2010 Cup Final bad. These are the goals that make you sick where you know, the coach knows, and even the goalie knows that they should have had that one.

Right away, you see Tyler Ennis capitalize on a “lucky shot.” A player attempting a weak, backhand, wrap around, while falling down only scores once in a million in this situation because the goalie generally makes that stop the other 999,999 times. Mason doesn’t make this save due to a defect in the way that he has in sealing his posts (which I’ll get into more below). Point being is that Mason has to make that save as the defense does a good job in keeping Ennis to the out of high risk shooting areas and leaving him with a low percentage shot attempt.

So, how good at tending net is Steve Mason?

Of the 45 goals that he has given up on 542 shots this year, he’s given up 13 Should of Hads, 13 Could of Hads and 19 in which he had No Chance on. If we compare this against Mason’s WarOnIce Shot Danger data keeping in mind Korn’s save percentage expectation ratios, it suggests that Mason is continuing his above average, top-10 ranked goaltending.

 

Sv%Low Sv%Medium Sv%High

98.24

93.97

86.32

Which is encouraging but Mason’s game has technical flaws that worry me every time he takes the ice. If you watched the entirety of the highlights you probably noticed that Mason has a lot of trouble with rebound control. The Flyers rank 21st in shots per game and after watching all of Mason’s game highlights, it strongly suggests that Mason is his own worst enemy as he constantly cannot secure the puck on the initial shot forcing him to basically have to make 2 more saves for every initial shot taken.

Part of the reason Mason has trouble holding onto pucks is his positioning of his glove hand.

(photo credit: Amy Irvin 38 Photography)

(photo credit: Amy Irvin 38 Photography)

Mason seems to think it’s a good idea to keep his palm parallel to the ice. The height of this positioning makes sense because at 6’4″, if he were to hold his glove up like an average sized person, his glove would be positioned above the crossbar. However, he would be much better at catching pucks if put his glove hand slightly more in front of his body and face his palm up (to waive at the shooter as I like to say).

Again, despite his size, Mason bends too far at the waist, leaning forward making himself smaller in the net for reasons that I can’t begin to comprehend. This forward lean is particularly troubling when he tries to cover his posts on the aforementioned wrap around situation as well as the low percentage shooting angle chances.

Mason employs the reverse VH that Jonathan Quick has pioneered in which the lead pad (closest one to the puck) is horizontal/parallel to the ice and the other (anchor) pad is vertical (this is reverse of the VH post covering method made popular in the 90’s by Patrick Roy in the butterfly goalie era). In the reverse VH, it is necessary for the goalie to have an active stick to make poke checks and cut off passes which could be the reason why Mason leans forward in the reverse VH position. However, I think that Mason is too aggressive in his post protection in that he actually makes himself smaller than he should which then leads us to Mason’s next problem, lateral movement.

Another problem with Mason’s overly aggressive, over compact reverse VH is that it forces him to overcompensate in his lateral movement. This is the reason why we see him over play his posts (slides passed his post ala the Jannick Hanson goal above), or over rotate (swinging around the goal post) when he reaches his post which forces him to waste time and movement to correct his rotation and recover back into optimal position that he moved passed.

Even though Mason’s brand of goaltending does not inspire me with confidence, the fact of the matter is that he keeps the puck out of the net at rate that he isn’t a liability like SOOOOOOO many goalies of Flyers past.

Does this mean that Mason is good?

I’m really not sure because his technical flaws are apparent enough that it suggests that it is only a matter of time before his weaknesses are exposed. But the thing I love about the Shoulda, Coulda, No Chance analysis is that you don’t have to be a goalie expert to evaluate the goals against. Take some time to watch highlights and decide for yourself. Further more, take the time to watch the opposing goalies and compare that to Mason and Michael Neuvirth.

The reason why most people (professional hockey people included) don’t understand goaltending is because they’re not having the conversation to understand what they’re looking at. It doesn’t matter if you what a goalie is doing “right” or doing “wrong.”

Goalies will seem less like witch doctors as we understand more about how and why goals get scored. We have to qualitatively expand upon our critiques of puck stoppers beyond just saying “he sucks” or “he’s great.”

 

 

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