Since Vokoun went down Nov. 23 with a thumb injury, Mason has produced a 12-6-1 record with a 2.24 goals-against average, .929 save percentage and three shutouts.
“Chris has done a great job for us,” Predators head coach Barry Trotz said Thursday from Nashville.
But with Vokoun set to return within the next week, the native of Red Deer, Alta., will resume backup duties.
“Tomas is our No. 1,” said Trotz, who added that Vokoun will start either Saturday or Tuesday. “They both cheer like hell for each other, they’re best of friends. What Chris has allowed us to do and what other teams may not have been able to do is that you don’t have to rush your No. 1 guy back. You can get him healthy and ready to go.”
Overall, Mason’s .927 save percentage in 25 games this season is second only to Montreal’s Cristobal Huet among all NHL goalies.
Still, it’s back to the bench once Vokoun feels ready to carry the workload.
“It’s tough,” Mason said Thursday. “Getting the chance, you get a taste of it, playing every night, it was awesome. I’m loving it. That’s what every player dreams of doing and I got to do it and it went pretty well.”
It’s not like he’s never going to play again this year. Trotz plans to rotate both goalies for a short while when Vokoun returns, but obviously the Czech Olympian will play the bulk load once he’s had a few games under his belt.
“Chris has played 20 games in a row so he’s due for a little rest anyway,” said Trotz. “The timing is working out perfect.”
What the Predators don’t have is a goalie controversy. As much as he believes he can handle the No. 1 job, Mason understands the situation.
“Tomas and I are good buddies,” said Mason. “We do what we’re told to do and we play when we’re told to play. The reality is that one of us may not be happy but we understand how the game works.”
Trotz said he didn’t need to sit down with Mason to explain things.
“I think it’s understood,” said Trotz. “Chris is a team guy, he knows Tomas is the No. 1 and he’s considered the No. 2. But what Chris has done, even when Tomas was healthy, is make it tough for me not to put Chris Mason in. I think Chris’s career is similar to Dwayne Roloson’s, he’s developed a little later and has a good work ethic.
“Chris can handle the No. 1 job but he understands his role as backing up one of the top goalies in the league.”
With the Predators a serious Stanley Cup contender this season, having a healthy and rested Vokoun will be key come playoff time. That mean Mason will probably be counted on more than other years to spot Vokoun here and there, especially down the stretch, so that the No. 1 goalie isn’t overtaxed.
“That’s a luxury I think for a team to have,” said Mason. “Keeping a guy fresh is important. As much as people say they want to play every game, and I would say the same thing, I’d like to play 82 games, but I think when you get down to the end of the year, to have your guy rested and ready and not overdoing it is a benefit to our team.”
Vokoun played a career-high 73 games in 2003-04, and was headed towards that figure again before a scary blood clot problem shut down his season last March. Now with Mason’s emergence there’s no need to play Vokoun that many games.
“Chris had the confidence of the team before this, and even more so now,” said Trotz.