Photo: Al Bello
The Caps don’t have as large of an edge in goaltending in this series as people might think. This isn’t a knock on Braden Holtby but more so an acknowledgement that Steve Mason is a better goalie than he’s been given credit for.
Mason burst onto the scene in 2008-09, winning the Calder trophy as the league’s top rookie. But then he floundered for a few seasons and was written off as a legitimate number one goalie in the NHL. But, since arriving in Philadelphia in the middle of the 2012-13 season, Mason has been every bit a legitimate number one goalie.
Since the start of the 2013 season, Mason has appeared in 171 games. According to War on Ice, 53 goalies have played 2,500-plus minutes at 5-on-5 during that same stretch. Here’s a list of the goalies with a better save percentage at 5-on-5 than Mason during that time: Carey Price.
That’s it. Masons’s 93.1 5-on-5 save percentage since 2013 ranks second among all qualifying NHL goalies. So yes, the dude is a very good goalie and is capable of stealing games and maybe even a series.
Mason has played only nine playoff games in his career, and his numbers are deflated by a disastrous outing as a rookie. In five playoff games with the Flyers, he’s posted a 93.9 save percentage. Mason has never stolen a series, but that doesn’t mean he’s not capable of going toe-to-toe with Holtby, whose numbers are as good as any goalie in the history of the NHL playoffs.
Let’s take a look at how each guy did this season.
Holtby followed up his breakthrough season in 2014-15 with a torrid start in 2015-16. But, by the end of the season, his save percentage numbers were no longer among the league’s elite. This isn’t to say Holtby shouldn’t be considered one of the better goalies in the league, or that there weren’t mitigating factors that might have led to his decline, but the bottom line is he finished outside of the top ten in 5-on-5 save percentage this season. Mason finished fourth.
|5-on-5 Save %||Adjusted 5-on-5 Save %|
|Holtby||93.1 (12th)||92.8 (15th)|
|Mason||93.5 (4th)||93.5 (3rd)|
Via Corsica, here’s a look at each player’s rolling, 20-game 5-on-5 save percentage:
This paints a pretty clear picture. Holtby played at an MVP-level in 2015, then saw a steep decline before showing signs of being back on track late in the season. Mason turned in a consistently good season with no major peaks or valleys.
Nick Mercadante has developed the most forward-thinking goalie metric available, the Mercad. The Mercad is 5-on-5 adjusted goals saved above average/60. You can read about it in full detail, but in short the metric compares a goalie’s performance to the league average and then adjusts for the shot locations a goalie faces. Much like with 5-on-5 save percentage, the Mercad reveals Mason to be one of the better goalies in the league. And again, Holtby’s mid-season swoon sees his 2015-16 season fall out of the elite company he has shown himself capable of keeping.
Nick has also developed a stat called Above Average Appearance percentage. This essentially tells you in what percentage of a goalie’s appearances said goalie saved an above average number of goals. At the very top of the list? Steve Mason. Holtby has another solid showing here, but once again isn’t elite.
I mentioned playoff performance above. We have to keep in mind that the playoff performances of both goalies is quite small, particularly Mason’s. On top of that, every playoff series is at most seven games, so all kinds of wacky performances could be headed our way.
Mason was awful in the playoffs as a rookie for Columbus but was really good in a losing effort for the Flyers against the Rangers in the spring of 2014. Holtby has the best playoff save percentage of any goalie to have played in 25 or more playoff games.
|Games Played||Save %|
Holtby is deservedly recognized as one of the better goalies around the league. His play took a major dip in the middle of the season, but that’s not enough for him to lose his foothold as an upper echelon NHL goalie.
Steve Mason does not get the credit he deserves. He can reasonably be considered one of the better goalies in the NHL, even if there’s not widespread acknowledgement of this among pundits. As Caps fans know, any goalie, even Jaro Halak, can steal a playoff series. And Mason isn’t just any goalie, he’s a very good one, so his ability to steal a playoff series for his team should not be overlooked.
I’d still take Holtby in goal for my team in a seven-game series, but to think the Caps have much of an edge in net heading into the series would be to ignore Mason’s elite body of work over the last several seasons.
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