Originally posted on NHL Hot Stove  |  Last updated 10/15/11

By Alexander Monaghan
President 

By PicktownGolfer (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/ licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)

Following the Columbus Blue Jackets fourth consecutive loss, a certain tidbit caught drew our attention. Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch, via Twitter, dug up some excellent journalistic research:

In the last three games, #CBJ G Steve Mason has allowed a goal on the opponent’s 2nd shot (MIN), 2nd shot (VAN) and 3rd shot (COL).

While this poor start may appear to be a coincidence, those of use who remember last season’s ‘NHL Premier’ recall Mason giving up similar early goals overseas.

In his first game of the season, Mason surrendered a goal to San Jose Sharks forward Torrey Mitchell with only 2:11 elapsed in the first period. The following tilt, Devin Setoguchi lit the lamp at 2:02 of the first. Even though the Blue Jackets managed to come away with two points over those two contests, it was an uphill battle, and furthermore the team has not been so fortunate this season with only one point through four.

GM Scott Howson does an excellent job in assembling a team. He does an even better job of letting his coach manage the day-to-day duties, filling the holes as necessary. His typical modus operandi involves trading or acquiring younger players, typically in their prime or about to hit it. He did this when he acquired R.J. Umberger, Antoine Vermette, Fedor Tyutin and more recently Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski. In short, Howson has assembled a fine team which could stay competitive despite playing in arguably the toughest Division in hockey.

The problem, whether coach Scott Arniel can see it or not, is Steve Mason. In fact, he believes unnecessary pressure, not his starting goalie, is the problem. Recently Arniel took down the Western Conference standings — a smart move considering his club sits at the very bottom. From Puck-Rakers Blog:

Here’s Arniel: “I liked the fact that it was up where you could see it. But last year we did notice, when we were playing really well in January and we won three games in a row, or four games in a row … we never moved (in the standings). It was a little bit of a downer for us when we were still playing well.”

Arniel has part of that statement right as last season they never moved up in the standings no matter how well they played.

Most of their general malaise was due to how far the club already sank. Mason lost seven one-goal games in a year where the team finished 16 games out of the playoffs. Those games didn’t make a difference, or wouldn’t have rather, but the 12 losses of three goals or more in games Mason started certainly did.

This club doesn’t light the lamp at an elite level but their early deficits and demoralizing losses certainly don’t bolster confidence in the locker room. At least Arniel realizes this as the team sent down promising rookie Cam Atkinson because they don’t want to hinder his development. Fellow rookies David Savard and Ryan Johansen also have been spared tough minutes since it really doesn’t help them to lose even if it is against NHL competition.

The way Howson runs this team he could eventually produce something special. If the club can develop chemistry they could be good for a few seasons and spare Rick Nash of a career of never winning a playoff game. Acquiring rookie Mark Dekanich — a 25-year-old netminder who dominated the AHL — was a bright move on Howson’s part. Should the Vancouver native find himself healthy, he could just earn the starting job with a chance to right the ship.

Over this past offseason, the team addressed every weakness except for one. Should they find that final piece, they could give the rest of the Central Division a run for its respective standing.


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