Predators plan to amp up reliance on one significant backup

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 9:19pm

Amid all of the uncertainty that currently surrounds the upcoming NHL season, Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz is certain of at least one thing.

“You’ve got to get wins out of your backup goaltender,” he said Tuesday. “There’s no question about it.”

If history — what little of it exists — is an accurate indicator, he is exactly right.

The only other time a work stoppage limited the league to a 48-game season, as likely will be the case this time, eight teams used their starting goalies for 40 games or more.

Five of those franchises made the playoffs. That group included the Chicago Blackhawks, who ultimately reached the Western Conference finals, and the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the New Jersey Devils. Martin Brodeur, then 22 and in his second full NHL season, went 19-11-6 in 40 regular-season appearances and notched all 16 of the Devils’ postseason victories.

The only coach in Nashville history, however, does not see that as a blueprint for his team’s success in this situation — and with good reason.

“We’re in the Western Conference and there’s a lot more travel than New York or New Jersey,” Trotz said. “Marty Brodeur back then was a lot younger than he is now and probably could go 40 games because their travel was across the river.”

Sure, enough, the Western Conference champion that year was Detroit, which relied on a pair of netminders to go a league-best 33-11-4 during the regular season. Mike Vernon appeared in 30 games and went 19-6-4. Chris Osgood chipped in with 19 appearances and a 14-5-0 mark.

Through the first three rounds of the postseason the Red Wings lost just two games. Vernon, then 31, was in the net for the vast majority of those playoff games.

As it turns out Nashville’s starter, Pekka Rinne, currently is 30 years old.

If things go as Trotz expects, therefore, the Predators will rely on backup Chris Mason for a greater percentage of games than they would have had the league played a full 82-game schedule. Last season, for example, Rinne tied a franchise record with 73 appearances or 89 percent of the contests.

“My goal coming in here is just to be ready and whenever [Trotz] tells me to play I’ll play,” Mason said. “I just want to be here and be ready for when I get my name called. That’s been my intention every year because I’ve had a lot of years where things never so as you planned them out at the beginning. So I stopped even doing that.”

Mason, 36, was signed early in free agency for a third stint with the Predators. He ranks fourth all-time among Nashville goalies with 58 wins for the franchise and is one of four goalies ever to win a playoff game for the Predators.

He won 24 games in 2006-07, when Nashville set a franchise record with 110 points and finished fourth in the Western Conference.

“I think in the Western Conference you’re going to have to get some wins from your backup goaltender, and Mase has got us some key wins over the years,” Trotz said. “He’s a great veteran to have.”