We’re only halfway through the 2008-09 season, but a remarkable, unprecedented hockey story is unfolding before our very eyes.
And we haven’t even made a big deal about it yet.
Forget all that stuff you’ve heard lately about Columbus rookie Steve Mason being a late-entry candidate for the Calder Trophy. If he keeps playing even close to the way he has through 24 games, he’ll win the Vezina as the NHL’s top goalie and the Hart as the league’s most valuable player.
No player in the history of the league has won those three awards in the same season, so we truly are seeing a phenomenal story in the making.
Consider the undisputable facts. Mason spent the first month of the season in the American League as Pascal Leclaire and Fredrik Norrena patrolled the crease for the Blue Jackets. It wasn’t until Nov. 5 the 20-year-old Mason got his first start of the season. He started off with three straight wins and six of nine.
Then Mason got hot.
After giving up 12 goals in his first four games, Mason has allowed just 30 in the 20 games since, for a mind-boggling goals-against average of 1.50 in that stretch. Included in that run is a league-leading six shutouts.
Mason leads the NHL in GAA at 1.74 (with his closest rivals Manny Fernandez at 2.07 and Tim Thomas at 2.13) and also save percentage at .938 (Craig Anderson is at .933 and Thomas at .932).
What’s more is the caliber of competition Mason is stonewalling. He stopped all 45 shots he faced in a 4-0 shutout victory over Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals Friday night. That’s the second shutout win over the Caps this season.
In 10 games against the NHL’s upper crust, Mason has allowed just 12 goals. Twelve goals? Gimme a break, that’s unbelievable. That’s four in two games against San Jose, none in two games against Washington, three to Montreal, two each to Detroit and Chicago, one to Calgary and shutouts against Philadelphia and Anaheim.
How crazy is that?
A lot of Mason’s success is due to coach Ken Hitchcock’s defensive philosophies – the Blue Jackets face the sixth fewest shots against this season at an average of 28.4 – but Mason is the last line of defense and his statistics are the best in several categories.
Save for the career accomplishments of Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur, we have not seen a goaltending story this noteworthy in recent history since Dominik Hasek won back-to-back Hart Trophies in ’97 and ’98 and Tom Barrasso won both the Calder and Vezina as an 18-year-old in 1984.
Drafted 69th overall in 2006, Mason’s star has been on a rise ever since, from success at the 2008 World Junior Championship to fast ascension among top prospects in The Hockey News annual Future Watch rankings.
Even if Mason comes back down to earth a bit and is simply solid the rest of the season, he’ll still win the Calder and be a finalist for the Vezina. But in a season when Sidney Crosby has been less than spectacular and Roberto Luongo hurt, if Mason has a couple more spectacular months, he’ll outdistance Alex Ovechkin for the Hart.
In two head-to-head matches so far, It’s Mason 2, Ovechkin 0. The remarkable rookie has stymied Ovie on all 18 shots.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.
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