You’d never know it by the way Steve Mason was diving and lunging and contorting himself Tuesday night in Minnesota, especially in the second period, but he’s actually trying to cut down on unnecessary movements around his net.
Obviously, the key word there is “unnecessary.” At the Xcel Energy Center Tuesday, every one of those moves was necessary for the Columbus Blue Jackets goalie to keep his team in the tight game. Particularly spectacular were the saves he made on Matt Cullen’s one-time redirect from the left circle and Zach Parise’s wraparound attempt at the right doorstep.
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You do what you have to as a goaltender, and that’s what Mason was doing, battling hard and not giving up on any shot.
When game conditions allow, though, Mason says he’s feeling comfortable with the tweak in his playing style, which basically comes down to the adage that less is more.
“I’ve worked a lot on cutting down unnecessary movement that just wastes energy,” said the former NHL rookie of the year. “I’m focusing on simplifying things and being economical with my reactions and moves.”
Economy of movement is a plus for a goaltender in that he’s able to maintain better control of his body, putting him in better position to handle rebounds. Goalies who master the style can make tough saves look routine.
No matter what a goalie’s style, however, it takes lateral quickness to make the saves Mason made on Cullen and Parise. He had tremendous burst from his left to right to make the stop on Cullen and made a superb push from his right to left to stop Parise’s quick jam job at the right post. Mason has been focusing on his quickness, both on the ice, and with an off-ice nutrition regimen that has him playing 15 pounds lighter than he was last season. He said he can feel the difference in the speed of his moves.
“That’s something that I really noticed early on throughout the lockout was my lateral movement felt a lot quicker,” he explained. “With the game at such a high speed, you definitely want to be fast side-to-side, and moving forward it’s something I’ll continue to try to get better at, as well.”
Everyone who follows the game, and most particularly Columbus fans, are aware of the struggles Steve Mason has had trying to match that glorious Calder Trophy season of 2008-09. But no one is more aware than the Oakville, Ontario, native of the need to rediscover his game. For him, the effort to sharpen things mentally starts with rediscovering himself.
“Over the course of the last season I went through so many negative things, I really tried to – I guess you could say – find myself. And over the course of the summer, it was really just hit the reset button and focus on a fresh start,” he noted.
“This season, moving forward, I knew it’s a big year for me and my career,” Mason continued. “And the organization as a whole is really starting out fresh with a pretty new coaching staff, a lot of new players coming in, and guys realize that for this organization, for this team to be successful, it’s going to come from everybody, and the goaltenders in particular. And for myself, I just want to come in giving myself the best chance to succeed, and it all started in the summer time.
The numbers may not reflect it, but that summer work is paying dividends for the 6-foot-4 netminder. He’s played well in all his starts and has given his team a chance to win despite an 0-3 record. When it’s all said and done, it’s hard to ask a goalie to do more.