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Blue Jackets head to Thanksgiving Day game vs. Ottawa searching for answers

By Peter D. McAlister

After completion of four of five straight games during a season long road trip away from Nationwide Arena the Columbus Blue Jackets (12-8-3, 27 pts) should find themselves concerned on dual fronts when it comes to the team’s inability to perform at a consistent and next level. If they are to rise above mediocrity in the Central Division of the Western Conference two glaring issues must be the focus or more losses like tonight’s 5-3 setback to the Montreal Canadians are on the horizon.

One obviously is in net. Starting goaltender Steve Mason was not between the pipes tonight while continuing to experience a sophomore slump at the quarter point of the season, though it should be noted during many games the defense has inexplicably felt the need to pinch in at inopportune times leaving both Mason and backup Mathieu Garon with virtually no chance to make saves. It is unacceptable that Mason (8-5-3) has already given up 58 goals in this short season and has a 3.59 goals against average and a .885 save percentage, he would be the first one to admit this, but play in the defensive zone needs immediate focus to help restore confidence in net. Garon (4-3-0) with a 2.72 GAA and a .913 SV% has handled his role with the Jackets admirably but Head Coach Ken Hitchcock and the front office know that for the organization to be successful and make it back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Mason must be the standout and franchise goaltender he was during the 2008-09 season when awarded the Calder Memorial Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year. Currently Mason is second to last to Toronto’s Vesa Toskala in goals against average and save percentage which the Jackets realize simply cannot continue.

Monday night’s game at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers in a 7-4 loss was a perfect example of why the Blue Jackets can’t rely on offensive skill, improved special teams and coaching and expect a successful campaign this season. After Columbus jumped out to a 2-0 early lead in the first period fiery Rangers’ head coach John Tortorella called a time out to settle his team down. The result; seven straight goals for New York in less than 22 minutes, frustration from both Mason and Garon, and a perplexed Coach Hitchcock, who rightfully so didn’t see the need to settle his own players down as the game went south faster than the northbound team jet to Montreal after the game.

What’s necessary is for Hitch to take a page from Tortorella’s playbook after he guided the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004 over the Calgary Flames. On January 2, 2004 in a game at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Lightning were embarrassed by the upstart visitors 2-0 and he proceeded to call out goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin in the press the following day after he gave up two goals on only seventeen shots. It was obvious after the daytime matinee that Tortorella heard the 13,000 disgruntled fans in attendance voice their displeasure and determined enough was enough. I attended that game and will never forget his red faced reaction.

Hockey fans everywhere know what happened next. The Tampa Bay Lightning hoisted the Cup after a grueling seven game series and left the NHL, Flames and Canadian fans wondering what went wrong. Maybe the Columbus Blue Jackets will embrace that same difficult road this season.

1 comment:

  1. The Jackets are still not able to play a full 60 with desire and dicipline . This is not something your learn but is part of your makeup as a professional and person .