Mason gets first start for Thrashers

Chris Mason was waiting for this day.

The goaltender anticipated his chance to put on a Thrashers jersey and take his place in net – even if it was just an exhibition game.

Mason, who signed a two-year contract as a free agent in July after two seasons in St. Louis, made his debut on Saturday as the Thrashers hosted Carolina at Philips Arena.

Mason stopped 27 shots, surrendering only a goal by Jeff Skinner 1:17 into the third period, in a 1-0 loss. Skinner knocked in a loose puck in front of the goal for the game-winner.

Thirty-eight seconds later Carolina’s Sergei Samsonov crashed headfirst into the boards after being tripped by Thrashers defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. Samsonov, who initially lay on his stomach kicking his feet, was placed on a backboard and removed on a stretcher. He was taken to an undisclosed Atlanta hospital. Later in the evening, he had full sensation in all extremities.

The Thrashers fell to 0-2 in the preseason.

Mason will get several more chances before the start of the regular season on Oct. 8. Coach Craig Ramsay said Saturday morning that Mason and Ondrej Pavelec, who played the entire exhibition opener against Columbus, will alternate starts in the team's six preseason games.

“We think [goaltending] should be a strength of our team,” Ramsay said. “That’s what we are looking to find out. We’ve got to see [Mason and Pavelec] play. That’s the most important thing right now, to make some decisions quickly if you can. They don’t all work and sometimes you have to make adjustments, but for now we want to see these guys play.”

Mason said he prefers to play a lot during the preseason. There is plenty to work on with new teammates and a long offseason.

“I really want to work on containing my rebounds, being good positionally, trying to read plays,” Mason said. “I think the toughest thing, for myself and probably a lot of goalies, is fighting through the traffic. You just don’t get game traffic unless you are in a game. For me, [it is] that comfort of making sure I’m at the top of my crease when I get that traffic instead of backing in and leaving more net open. Those kinds of little things you only get from playing games.”

The exhibitions will also give Mason the opportunity to work on the on-ice communication with his new teammates. Saturday, he intended to concentrate on what to do with the puck during breakouts and defensive structures.

Under Ramsay, the Thrashers have treated scrimmages and practices as more than drills. The new coach wants to instill a new attitude. That’s just fine with Mason.

“It’s been a really tough camp,” Mason said. “Already, early in camp, we are really being held accountable for doing the right things in game-like situations. A lot of times in practices you know you aren’t going to have [an opposing] backchecker or forechecker, and it’s easy to let up and make soft plays. We are being told early, which I think is awesome, to make hard game-like plays and decisions. We are learning early that we are going to be accountable.”


* Forward Akim Aliu, defenseman Jaime Sifers and goaltenders Drew MacIntyre and Peter Mannino were released prior to Saturday's game, trimming the Thrashers roster to 34 players. Aliu will be re-assigned to AHL Chicago, which begins training camp on Monday. Sifers,  MacIntyre and Mannino must clear waivers and can report to Chicago if not claimed by another team.

* Ramsay said that the team is unsure of the exact nature of the wrist injury which has limited Jim Slater all training camp. Slater has been limited to skating drills with an injury that has him listed as day-to-day.

"They are still trying to figure out exactly what is wrong with it," Ramsay said. "They've had a couple different opinions on what it is and they are trying to sort that out. I'm staying away from that as far as I possibly can. I know [general manager] Rick [Dudley] is trying to get it done. Our trainers are trying to get it done. We want to figure it out as quickly as possible. So far there have been some different ideas about what is wrong. He doesn't want to rush into anything too. He wants to make sure it's done right."