CHRIS MASON has had a good seat for a good chunk of the Winnipeg Jets' 2011-12 season from his perch on the bench as Ondrej Pavelec's sidekick.
And now the veteran netminder will finally step into the spotlight again.
The Jets will start Mason tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes, giving workhorse Pavelec a breather after he made five consecutive starts and 17 of the last 18.
"I'm excited. I've had enough practice time over the past couple of weeks, so I'm excited to get in a game," said Mason. "I'm just worried about feeling comfortable in net and simple things like staying aggressive and not backing into my net."
But there is more to this decision than head coach Claude Noel simply pulling a name from a hat. Mason's last start was a 3-1 victory over the Hurricanes in Raleigh on Nov. 25 and he was also in goal when the Jets knocked off Carolina 5-3 on Oct. 22. And there's more: Mason is 4-2-1 with a 1.30 goals against average and one shutout in seven career games against Carolina. Pavelec's numbers vs. the Canes? Try 3-5-2, with a 4.03 GAA in 11 contests.
Noel also wants to get Mason some game action here in Winnipeg, especially with the Jets playing against Carolina tonight and in Detroit Saturday.
"It's good to have him play at home. He needs to be a part of this thing," Noel said. "He's ready to go. There's different factors. You'd like him to play at home as well. And what do you want to do, throw him into the net in Detroit? I mean, there's a respect factor you try to have with players. I wouldn't feel really great if you threw me out against Detroit, that's like throwing somebody out to the dogs."
SPARK CITY: The Jets are wary of the Canes, especially given they are coming off a win for new coach Kirk Muller.
"Any time there's a coaching change it gets a spark and it should be noticed in that dressing room," said captain Andrew Ladd. "It usually gets guys going. They're coming off a big win in Edmonton and I'm sure they have a good feeling there and they'll be looking to keeping that going."
Noel, meanwhile, was also part of an in-season coaching change -- albeit much later in the season. He replaced Ken Hitchcock as the head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets during the 2009-10 season.
"I took over in February, quite a bit of difference," said Noel. "But what it does for a club, it does different things. You can get invigorated, but you can see that the change has not helped a lot of the teams... What it does is eventually force your players to look and say, 'Well, they're not going to make another change, we better pick it up or get going.' Eventually it throws the onus back on the players and a lot of times that's where it has to go. Sometimes it jolts you into performing better right away.
"When you take over early in the year, you still have hope alive that you can make a run. When you take over later, it' quite a bit different, usually at a period when your hopes are gone. Quite a bit different."
KANE, THE PLAYMAKER? Here's Jets' winger Evander Kane when asked about developing his game to become more of a playmaker -- he has 14 goals and seven assists in 26 games this year:
"You definitely want to be developing in all areas. But in terms of me turning into a playmaking, pass-first guy... probably not. That's just not the makeup of me. I'm a shoot-first guy. I'm more of a goal-scorer than a playmaker."
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