Some could argue that Chris Mason (left) and Ty Conklin is the best goalie tandem the Blues have had since Greg Millen and Rick Wamsley in 1985.
The pre-game tape St. Louis coach Andy Murray put together before the Blues' Oct. 22 game against the Minnesota Wild was pretty simple. It included one save after another by Blues goaltender Chris Mason from the previous game.
The rub: The Blues lost that last game, 5-1, to the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in a game in which Mason faced 20 shots in the first period and another 15 in the second. Meanwhile, the Blues managed only 11 shots through two periods.
"My question to the players was this: 'Chris Mason did his job, what about the rest of you?' " Murray explained, knowing he can count on either Mason or Ty Conklin to give the Blues a chance to win every night. "The key thing with our goaltenders is that 'Mase' and 'Conks' come to work hard all the time. They challenge our shooters in practice, forcing them to make good shots."
Every NHL coach would love to have the comfort of having a Martin Brodeur or a Roberto Loungo in goal for 70-80 games a season. But Murray believes he has the next best thing with Mason and Conklin.
Mason put the Blues on his shoulders late last season and led them to the Stanley Cup Playoffs by playing in the final 33 games. He posted an impressive 24-8-6 record down the stretch with five shutouts, a .924 save percentage and a 2.08 goals-against average.
Conklin? All he's done is register a record of 18-8-5 in Pittsburgh two seasons ago and 25-11-2 last season while helping Pittsburgh and Detroit to the Stanley Cup Final respectively.
"I only know Chris Mason's character from his reputation, but I can say clearly state that without the performance of Evgeni Malkin stepping up after Sidney Crosby got hurt and Ty Conklin filling in for Marc-Andre Fleury we would never had made it to the Final that year. Ty was that good for us," said Chuck Fletcher, current GM of the Minnesota Wild, who was an assistant to GM Ray Shero in Pittsburgh during the Pens' run to the Final in 2008.
I've always maintained that the uplifting nature of goaltending -- make a game-turning save and then see the team respond by going down the ice and scoring -- can be contagious in a locker room or on a bench. The Blues hope Mason and Conklin can do that for them this season and their never give up attitude in the goal crease.
In fact, this could be the best goaltending tandem the Blues have had since Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante combined for 13 shutouts in the 1968-69 season or Greg Millen and Rick Wamsley in 1985-86.
With Mason and Conklin, all you have to do is look at how hard they had to work to get to the NHL.
During a good run in juniors at Prince George in the Western Hockey League, Chris was drafted in the seventh round, 122nd, by the New Jersey Devils in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft. He went from the Devils' organization to Anaheim, to Nashville, to Florida and back to Nashville before he finally found a niche with the Predators backing up Tomas Vokoun in 2003-04.
Conklin's resume is similar. He was underrated out of the University of New Hampshire and following a stint in Edmonton, where he won 17 games in 2003-04, Ty then spent backup time in Columbus and Buffalo before going to Pittsburgh -- his fourth NHL club in three years.
"We have a mutual respect for one another, having had to fight and battle just to make it to the NHL," Mason explained. "There's a level of support that I have for Ty and he has for me that I think is obvious."
Added Conklin, "You know how hard it is how hard it is to get this far, what you went through from team to team to team."
Mason said he's never appreciated being called a backup, saying, "This isn't football, where the backup never plays. In hockey, the other goalie winds up playing, what 30 (games) or 30 percent of the games? And you can't tell me those points aren't just as important to a team."
Said Conklin, "Eighty-two games is a lot, especially in the Western Conference where just making it to the playoffs is a 12 or 13-team battle every year and the travel is so hard."
Murray said he's not asking Mason or Conklin to be great in the goal crease, just good enough to give the Blues a chance to win every night.