Mason waits behind NHL’s hottest goaltender

March 18, 2013

You’ll forgive Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason if he’s feeling a little like Vladimir or Estragon these days.  
No, Mason isn’t waiting for Godot, but he is waiting for a chance to get back in the Blue Jackets net in the near future. 
The way Sergei Bobrovsky has played this month, though, you can understand why Mason may feel a little like the aforementioned characters from the legendary play. Through the weekend, Bobrovsky had started six straight games after relieving Mason in the shootout win over Edmonton on March 5, had posted two shutouts, and was ranked second in the NHL in save percentage and sixth in goals against average.
With his time on the bench approaching the two-week mark, Mason says the best thing he can do is make sure his practices are more like games so he can try to stay as sharp as possible. That isn’t easy in this shortened NHL season, which has offered precious few gaps in the schedule for traditional, full-team practices.
“Yeah, and this year in particular is pretty difficult because we’re not really having the full practices,” Mason explained. “It’s a lot of optional skates, so I have to make sure when I am on the ice it’s the quality of the work that I’m putting in to make sure that whenever I am back in, I’ve given myself the best chance to succeed.
“So I’m focusing a lot on my skating,” he continued. “I’ve been working on getting to my new position quickly, with short, hard stops, giving myself the best chance to get set and ready for the shot.”
By his “new position,” the former NHL Rookie of the Year is referring to a change in his positioning in the crease this season, a project he’s been working on with Columbus goaltending coach Ian Clark. The tweaks he’s made to his fundamental approach to playing goal at the NHL level have pretty much taken hold for him, to the point where they’re becoming instinctive.
“It’s getting to that point,” said Mason. “This year, as I said, it’s been difficult just because the practice time hasn’t been there. Then, obviously, after not playing for a while now, it’s tough to get into any kind of a routine. But I’m trying hard to just make sure that whenever I am on the ice that I’m making it worthwhile.”
With the schedule so condensed, not only are practices usually optional, but they may feature just a handful of skaters on the ice. Mason has been focused on dovetailing his work routine around the limited numbers of skaters and making sure he’s helping them, and vice versa, in such a limited practice framework. 
“Yeah, in a situation like today when you have only about six guys on the ice, it’s not really a full practice setting, so you make sure you stay on for extra time and work on whatever the players want to work on, whether it’s point shots, or the game of rebounds that we were playing out there, just to try and get as much work as you can,” he noted.
Mason knows where Bobrovsky is right now. It’s a zone in which most goaltenders rarely find themselves. It’s a place that features pucks that look bigger and moves that are all correct. It’s a place no goaltender ever wants to leave.
“There’s no better feeling,” Mason agreed. “I’m sure Sergei’s riding a high, and it’s great to see him having that success. He’s making the saves he should be making and he’s making some that he shouldn’t be making. Pucks are hitting him and sticking to him, so you can tell that he’s just in the zone right now. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a goalie throughout the rest of the league that’s playing any better than him.”
As Bobrovsky continues to make headlines around the NHL with his mind-boggling play of late, Mason continues to wait. One thing about this truncated NHL schedule, though, is that every team has to have its goaltenders share the load. Mason will get another chance to help this team, maybe sooner than later. And he knows what he has to be doing in the meantime.
“Just to continue to stay positive and to make sure that the practice time you ARE given you’re using to the best of your abilities,” he said. “Your practices become your games when you’re not playing, so when there are game-like situations in practice – like power-play time – I have to treat that as if it were a real power play in a game and try not to give up a goal. I’ll try to make a big save in those practice situations and try to build off little things like that, to make sure that once an actual game situation rolls along that you feel as if you haven’t missed a beat.”
That’s the key for Mason. When he gets back in there, the idea is to be as sharp as he’d be if he’d been playing every game. Pretty tough, when the reality is he must feel as if he’s been waiting as long as Vladimir and Estragon have been waiting for Godot.