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Central: Blues' Mason doesn't need No. 1 label

by Dan Rosen
Even while understanding his role has changed dramatically in the last eight days, St. Louis Blues goalie Chris Mason isn't buying into the new label that he's been given.

"There are a lot of goalies in this League that aren't labeled the No. 1 that are definitely capable," Mason told this week. "A lot of teams are understanding if you don't have one of the top two or three guys you need two goalies in most situations. Whoever is playing that night is the No. 1 goalie. People like a label for something and that's fine."

At least for now, and probably for the balance of the season, Mason will be playing on most nights for the Blues. He is the beneficiary of Manny Legace's troubles.

After reportedly offering Legace to all 29 other teams via trade, the Blues, who couldn't find a partner, waived the 34-year-old goalie last Friday. It was four days after he allowed three goals on eight shots against Detroit. Legace cleared waivers and was assigned to the Peoria Rivermen of the American Hockey League, pushing Mason up one spot on the depth chart. Chris Holt was brought up from Peoria to be Mason's backup.

"We provided Manny an opportunity to revive his career with the St. Louis Blues," Blues President John Davidson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "He's a guy who has had some great times here with the Blues, some other times that weren't so good. He has not had a good season. We just need him to find his game."

Mason was admittedly surprised with the events of last week. He knew the Blues and Legace were having their differences, but the roster move still caught him off-guard.
"That's kind of the way the NHL is now," Mason said. "Unexpected things can happen quite often throughout the year. They had some issues between them and they felt that was the direction they wanted to go."

According to the Post-Dispatch, Legace and the Blues began having differences over the summer, when the goalie approached management about wanting to have surgery on his right knee. He also requested a contract extension.

The Blues didn't give him the extension and Legace had a minor operation that allowed him to be ready for the season. However, an All-Star last season, Legace was struggling with a 3.18 goals-against average and .885 save percentage.

"I had heard maybe some tidbits of it, but nothing concrete," Mason said when asked about the disagreement between Legace and the Blues. "I tried not to involve myself in those kinds of things. It's not my business. I heard rumblings, though."

Mason is hardly taking joy out of Legace's struggles. It was only last season, when he was still with Nashville, that Mason lost his No. 1 job to Dan Ellis, who carried the Predators into the playoffs with his strong play down the stretch.

The Predators signed Ellis to a two-year contract and traded Mason to St. Louis in June.

"I definitely empathize with him because I know exactly what he is going through," Mason said. "It seems like the harder you try the harder it is and it's not a great feeling when you're in that situation. I use the analogy that when a goal scorer is not scoring goals, he can at least contribute other ways by being more physical and stronger defensively. When you're a goalie, if you're not stopping the puck, that's it, it's tough to help out."

Mason, who had won only seven games in his 26 appearances, had a 2.60 GAA and .915 save percentage when Legace was waived. In his first three games since, he beat Colorado with 23 saves against 24 shots, gave up five goals on 29 shots to Vancouver and allowed three goals on 34 shots in a 4-3 shootout loss to Nashville.

The Blues entered Friday 14th in West with 51 points, but only eight points out of a playoff spot. Davidson and his management staff believe they have a better shot of climbing up the standings with Mason in net, and the goalie is excited for the challenge.

"It's not going to be easy, but it is definitely realistic to get back in it," Mason said. "Other things are going to happen. Other teams are going to win, but we have to take care of our business. We're not talking about it too much. We all understand the situation."

Kane finding game -
His ankle still isn't healed to the point where Patrick Kane can call himself 100 percent, but the Chicago Blackhawks All-Star right wing may have finally located his offense again.

"I feel a little upswing coming for myself here," Kane said according to the Chicago Tribune. "I'm getting back to form a bit."

Kane, who still led the Hawks with 46 points heading into Friday's game at St. Louis, had four points in his previous seven games. We're not talking All-Star numbers here, but considering how invisible Kane was in the previous month it's at least something to cheer about.

In the 11 games Kane played from Dec. 28 until Jan. 21, he had only one assist.

He sprained his ankle Dec. 30 against Detroit and had to miss the two games after the Winter Classic. Kane said he's still feeling the effects of the injury, which caused his offense vanish, but maybe now he's coming out of it.

"I've got to play through pain and learn how to do it," Kane said according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "I probably could have taken a couple more games off, but who knows what that would have done. It'll probably be a couple more weeks until I'm 100 percent.”

Wings being Wings - Tomas Holmstrom is out at least another month after undergoing sports hernia surgery Wednesday.  Johan Franzen, who has missed the last four games with a hand injury, doesn't expect to be back until next week.

Whatever. The Wings had still won six straight games coming into the weekend, and a big reason is the reunion of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg on the top line.

Datsyuk, who is making a strong push for the Hart Trophy, had a nine-game point streak (5 goals, 11 assists) snapped Thursday night. Entering Friday, Zetterberg had 6 points in five games since signing his 12-year contract.

Not to be outdone, Dan Cleary, who has developed chemistry playing in Holmstrom's stead on the right side of Datsyuk and Zetterberg, had 5 points in five games before Friday's game at Columbus.

"He's doing really well," Zetterberg said of Cleary, according to the Detroit Free-Press. "He's standing in front of the net and making it harder for the goalie to have the right angle. And he's in the corners, too, going in and getting the puck and then he gives it to either me or Pav and then he goes back to the front of the net again. He's got great vision, too, especially in our own end when we transition from defense to offense. He always makes the right play."

The injuries, including Zetterberg's three-game absence with back spasms from Jan. 29-Feb. 2, have also allowed the Wings to test their organizational depth. Ville Leino and Darren Helm are showing Detroit GM Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock they deserve to be on the playoff roster, too.

"I feel I can compete," Leino told "I'm more relaxed and more confident."

Quick but memorable - Steve Mason was activated off injured reserve Friday morning and back in Columbus' net last night against Detroit. Meanwhile, Dan LaCosta was on his way back to the American Hockey League, but at least this time he went back to the Syracuse Crunch with some great memories.

The 22-year-old rookie from Newfoundland won his first two NHL games this week, including a 3-2 overtime win against the Western Conference-leading San Jose Sharks and his first NHL shutout, 3-0, Tuesday over the Colorado Avalanche.

"There was absolutely no way I would have thought I'd even be up here, let alone playing a couple games and doing well," LaCosta said after Tuesday's win in which he stopped all 31 Avalanche shots. "It's just a pretty surreal feeling right now."

"There was absolutely no way I would have thought I'd even be up here, let alone playing a couple games and doing well. It's just a pretty surreal feeling right now."
-- Dan LaCosta

LaCosta was playing because Mason (mono) and backup Wade Dubielewicz (flu) were both ill. Since he was up on an emergency recall basis, he had to be sent down the moment Mason was activated off injured reserve.

This and that - In honor of "Hockey Weekend Across America," Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley proclaimed Feb. 14-15 "Hockey Weekend In Chicago." … David Legwand became Nashville's all-time career assists leader with 223 after getting two in Thursday's 4-3 shootout win vs. St. Louis. … Chicago goalie Nikolai Khabibulin tweaked something in his lower body during Wednesday's 3-1 win in Atlanta and is listed as day-to-day. The Blackhawks recalled Antti Niemi from Rockford of the AHL on Thursday to serve as Cristobal Huet's backup this weekend. … According to the Detroit Free-Press, Wings defensive prospect Jonathan Ericsson was in Motown this week to see a hand specialist due to his nagging wrist injury.

He said it -
"You are looking for those signs, those turning points and we certainly saw it (Thursday) night," Nashville GM David Poile told "Now you have the No. 1 team in the League (Boston) coming in (tonight) and that's obviously a tall order for us, but those are the type of games and situations where you can look back and say that is the game that turned it around. You say that on a number of different occasions, but we hope one of them is (tonight)."
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