End the debate now: Blue Jackets' Mason is the top rookie

ITEM: Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason solidifies Calder Trophy hopes.

The season is about half over, but it could be time to just hand out the Calder now to the league’s top rookie.

Chicago’s Kris Versteeg? No, sorry. St. Louis’ Patrik Berglund? Not even he can help save the sad-sack Blues. Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan? He’ll probably finish second.

Steve Mason, come get your award.

The credentials are most definitely there. Despite nearly sitting out on Friday with what was called “upper-body muscle spasms,” Mason made 45 saves in a 3-0 win over Washington to end the Capitals’ seven-game winning streak and hand them their second loss in 21 games at home.

“It’s huge for us,” said Mason, a two-time NHL rookie of the month after his second shutout against the Alex Ovechkin-led Capitals.

Beginning with a whitewash of Atlanta on Nov. 22, the Oakville, Ontario product is 11-8-0 with a 1.47 goals-against average and a league-leading six shutouts.

Mason leads the league a 1.74 GAA, and is quickly piling up the shutouts, but he still needs 10 more to break Tony Esposito’s NHL record set in 1969-70 with Chicago.

Earlier in the day, Mason was selected to start for the rookie team in the NHL YoungStars game later this month during All-Star weekend in Montreal.

"He's been great. He's such a solid goalie. He looks like a 10-year veteran back there. He's calm. He's confident. When your goalie plays that way and gives you a chance to win every night, confidence just runs through the team," said teammate and leading scorer Rick Nash earlier this week.

Is there any doubt now?

If Mason does win the Calder, he’ll be the third netminder this decade to do so. Evgeni Nabokov copped the award with San Jose in 2001, and Andrew Raycroft did the same for Boston three years later.

Mason’s emergence also means Pascal Leclaire may soon be considered hockey’s version of Wally Pipp.

Last season was Leclaire’s first as a starter, and he was 24-17-6 with a 2.25 GAA and nine shutouts – second only the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist. That earned Columbus’ first-round pick in 2001 a new three-year contract.

Ankle and thumb injuries this season have limited Leclaire to a 4-6-1 record with a 3.83 GAA and no shutouts in 12 games.

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