… plus the legality of Stamkos’ spin move, Niemi’s warm welcome back in Chicago, and a battle of the NHL top-2 goalies in this New Year’s Eve update.

Columbus goalie Steve Mason put on a show for friends and family in Toronto on Thursday night, making 20 saves in what the Columbus Post Dispatch labelled “one of his most under-control performances of the season,” in an article that also detailed a crowd with more than 200 Blue Jackets’ friends and family on the guest list, including an estimated 80 for Mason alone.

“There were lots of emotions coming into this game, being a hometown game for so many guys with so many family and friends in the stands,” Mason, who is from the Toronto suburbs, told the Post Dispatch. “That brings a lot of extra pressure and you try not to think about it. But it’s obviously there.”

Mason has been feeling a lot of pressure already after another slow start to the season, but has won both his starts since being called out publicly by both head coach Scott Arniel and goaltending coach Dave Rook, who also worked with him in junior hockey with the nearby London Knights. But Mason, who was pulled from three of his previous four starts (and 12 times overall) before being called out, has now won two straight in somewhat impressive fashion.

Despite the protests of some who wondered if Mason didn’t need a softer approach to build confidence, maybe the tough love was needed. After all, according to InGoal sources close to the situation this was a guy who as a 20-year-old rookie told Columbus management to keep then-coach Ken Hitchcock away from him during his Calder Cup winning year, insisted on a switch in goalie coaches, and still came back carrying at least 15 pounds of extra weight for what quickly became a Sophomore slump season.

Michael Leighton was not overly impressed with his first game of the season despite making 32 saves in a 7-4 road win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night.

“The team really saved my butt tonight,” Leighton told the Philadelphia Daily News after the game. “I’m really not too excited about the way that I played. It was good to get back. We got a win and they did a great job scoring some goals for me.”

Flyers goalie Michel Leighton and coach Jeff Reese

Working with Flyers goalie coach Jeff Reese on playing a bit deeper in his net has helped Michael Leighton. (Photo by David Hutchison)

InGoal Magazine got a chance to talk to Leighton a few days before his surprise season debut, and the post includes video and quotes about the things he was working on in practice with goalie coach Jeff Reese. As seen in some parts of the video, the session included a lot of work on attacks and shots from sharp angles, with an emphasis on controlling rebounds as well as making saves, which naturally leads a lot of people to think back to Patrick Kane’s Stanley Cup clinching goal against Leighton. Most probably thought of it again after Leighton gave up an admitted “pretty weak” goal to Ryan Smyth early in Thursday’s game.

It was one of those situations where the knee-down position (or one-pad down or VH as some call it) would have prevented a goal, and indeed it was among the techniques Leighton was working two days earlier. But it’s also a technique that has become overused by some goalies, and one that, as Reese pointed out to InGoal, can be more difficult for bigger goalies like Leighton to master.

“It’s a little different for a guy like Leights who didn’t do it his whole career. And it’s probably easier for a shorter guy, it really is,” Reese said. “The bigger guys have to get down a lot lower and you’ve got to make sure you are very tight because pucks can trickle through. And then if the rebound lays there, there is not a lot of leverage. So I am mixed on it. I love the fact they can push off that post with it, or if a guy cuts around a D and goes behind and brings it back out, they can push off and get across. There are some good things and some bad things about it. It’s all about making a read as far as when to use it.”

For Leighton, sharp angle shot may continue to be a challenge. That’s in part because the deeper-in-the-net philosophy that he adopted successfully under Reese last season (see above link for more) also tends to lead to goalies playing flatter across their goal line on angled attacks, though Leighton seemed to be rotating his hips pretty well against the Kings. The biggest difference, he said, between two early goals and a perfect 10-save third period was a pep talk from Reese between periods.

“He told me I’ve got to start fighting for pucks more and that when the puck goes back to the point, I’ve got to try and find it,” Leighton told the Daily News. “Because I wasn’t seeing the puck coming in. That really seemed to help. Hopefully I can build off of that.”

No word if Tampa Bay goalie Dan Ellis was offended, but Cedrick Desjardins’ memorable debut was far from the only highlight of Thursday night’s win over the Canadiens, as Lightning teammate Steven Stamkos scored a crucial 3-1 goal on a spectacular penalty shot spin-o-rama against Carey Price early in the third period. Unlike Ellis getting upset when Edmonton’s Linus Omark used a spin move at the blue line before scoring the winning shootout goal a few weeks back, there were few complaints after Stamkos skated in hard, stopped at the edge of the crease, spun around the other way and backhanded the puck in:

There was a time, early after the post-lockout addition of shootouts, when goals like that outraged the league’s stoppers, who pointed to the rule governing both that and penalty shots, which read: “The puck must be kept in motion towards the opponent’s goal line.”

It’s easy to argue Stamkos’ shot does not keep moving towards the goal line. The puck pretty much comes to a complete stop as he gathers it for the backhand. But there are no more arguments these days because the NHL has since added the following into the rule book: “The spin-o-rama type move where the player completes a 360° turn as he approaches the goal, shall be permitted as this involves continuous motion.”

And in preparation for the inevitable day when a player picks the puck up, lacrosse-style, in a shootout, there is also this rulebook add-on: “The lacrosse-like move whereby the puck is picked up on the blade of the stick and “whipped” into the net shall be permitted provided the puck is not raised above the height of the shoulders at any time and when released, is not carried higher than the crossbar.”

Antti Niemi got a warm welcome back from fans in Chicago going into his first game in the city he helped bring a Stanley Cup to last season. But after watching Marty Turco out of position on a couple of power play tap-ins, Blackhawks fans may be wishing Niemi never left. Not that it was his choice. Chicago infamously cut ties with their Cup-winning Finnish stopper after he was rewarded with $2.75-million from a salary arbitration hearing.

A battle of the best statistical stoppers in the NHL pitted Boston’s Tim Thomas (first in the NHL with .947 save percentage and 1.74 goals-against average) against Atlanta’s Ondrej Pavelec (second at .935 and third at 2.11) on Thursday night, and it was only fitting that the game came down to a shootout. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the story on how Pavelec, who made 42 saves through overtime and two more in the shootout, overcame a surprisingly shaky shootout history to beat Thomas (30 saves total) and the Bruins, and NHL.com provides us with highlights of the save-filled affair:

The Thrashers have leaned heavily on Pavelec, who has faced an average of 35 shots his last five starts, which won’t make it any easier for Chris Mason to come in an play against New Jersey on New Year’s Eve, just his second game action since mid-December. Mason will be up against another backup, and former Thrashers’ No.2 Johan Hedberg, who told the Fire and Ice blog he is looking forward to a shot at redemption against his old Atlanta team, which looks nothing like the squad he left as a free agent after last season.

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