What a different a year doesn’t make. Last season, the Jackets roared out to a 26-point mark in their first 20 games, and then promptly lost 21 of 24 to fall completely out of the playoffs. Fast forward to this year: 28 points in the first 20 games, knocking on the door for first in the division and conference. Then, fast forward 12 more games, with only two wins and seven total points, leading to a plunge down to 11th in the standings. Dennis Green is in the wings clearing his throat, getting ready to yell: “THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE!!”
Wednesday, 12/15 in Vancouver – Canucks 3, Blue Jackets 2– OT – (box) – Highlights Thursday, 12/16 in Edmonton – Oilers 6, Blue Jackets 3 – (box) – Highlights Saturday, 12/18 in Columbus – Stars 2, Blue Jackets 1 – (box) – Highlights
What to say? It all came down to missed opportunities on this road trip and on Saturday at home against Dallas. In Vancouver, the Jackets again rallied to tie the score late, and missed another opportunity to get the elusive win/second point by again breaking down in overtime, taking a bad penalty, and giving up the game-winner. The entire Edmonton game was a missed opportunity, as Steve Mason was horrible in goal and wasted a hat trick and total statistical domination (outside of the score, of course) by the Jackets. The Jackets scored a tying goal on Saturday only to have it waved off due to an interference call on Ethan Moreau. The Jackets went on to lose by that one-goal margin.
The Jackets are back home, and much like last December are again scrambling to find answers to their slide. The defense has been solid… at times. The offense looks solid… at times. The goaltending is good… at times. The Jackets just can’t put the entire thing together for one solid game of late.
Steve Mason is struggling. He’s been pulled from three of his last four starts, and one could argue was the sole reason the Jackets lost both the Calgary and Edmonton games on this past road trip, as he gave up two goals in the first four-plus minutes in Calgary (3-2 loss in OT) and six goals in the first two periods to Edmonton (6-3 loss). "(Mason) is in his own head right now," coach Scott Arniel said. "He’s probably his own worst enemy. But we’re going to stick with him and do everything we can to help him. Obviously, he has to be a big part of our hockey club.”
Beyond that, all goals don’t obviously fall *just* on the goalie. The defense has been hit-or-miss. The offense looks like forechecking world-beaters one night, and throws up a one-goal whimper the next. I don’t envy Arniel and his job right now. Line changes are coming again. Now that Kristian Huselius is back in the lineup, Arniel is moving Rick Nash back to the right side of Antoine Vermette and putting Juice on his left wing. RJ Umberger picks up the struggling Jakub Voracek and Derick Brassard on his line.
The Jackets get a bit of a rest in the travel department, as they play three of four at home, with only a trip to Chicago sandwiched in there. They host Calgary (14-17-3, 31pts) tonight, with Vancouver (19-8-4, 42pts) coming to town on Thursday. They then head to Chicago (15-13-4, 34pts) on Sunday, and come back to Columbus and host Minnesota (18-10-2, 38pts) on Monday night. Hopefully some home cooking can do the boys some good.
Let’s take a quick look at the Jackets by the numbers, through 29 games:
Scoring: 2.50 gpg (22nd NHL)
Defense: 2.78 gapg (16th NHL)
Power Play: 12.2% (29th NHL)
Penalty Kill: 80.5% (19th NHL)
Goals Leader: Rick Nash – 17
Assists Leader: RJ Umberger – 14
Points Leader: Rick Nash – 26
Wins (Goalie): Steve Mason – 9
Goals-Against Average: Mathieu Garon – 1.98
Save Percentage: Mathieu Garon – 92.4%
Things are looking up in this area, at least. Kristian Huselius is back, and has played in the past three. He also notched a hat trick in his second game back in Edmonton, so having him back looks to help the offense just a bit. Derek MacKenzie is on IR, however, with a groin issue. Rostislav Klesla missed the Dallas game with a lower-body injury, as well.
Who’s Hot, Who’s Not
Hot: Hard to give anyone the nod here, given the slide. Let’s give Kristian Huselius some love for throwing in a hat trick in Edmonton the other night in just his second game back after missing 22 straight with a high ankle sprain. His scoring touch was missed not only five-on-five, but on the Power Play as well. Speaking of which, the Power Play is *trying* to get better, as they’ve scored PP goals in five of seven games. Progress!
Not: Steve Mason. As we said above, he’s been pulled from three of his last four starts. He’s fighting the puck, fighting his positioning, and fighting his own head. "I’m the one creating the problems. I’m thinking too much here and there, but it’s nothing I can’t overcome … I think if you look at the whole of the season there have been a lot of positives from it. I think there have been a lot of quality games. It is just a two-game thing — the quick game in Calgary and obviously I had the bad game against Edmonton. For me, there is no reason to push the panic button. I just have to stop it right now and not let it drag on. I just didn’t have my head on straight and you can’t have that … It’s my job to be ready and I didn’t have the start I wanted ."
Quote of the Week
From the WTF is up with Mason?? camp:
[Mason] looks a little bit like a golfer who’s lost his swing and he’s trying every bit of advice that someone else tells him to do. He’s thinking before he’s reacting and that’s the worst thing you can do as a goaltender. We are going to go back and start from scratch. [Goaltending coach Dave Rook] is here and we are going to put the work in both on and off the ice … However long that takes, whether it’s one, two, three days, I’m not sure, a week … We don’t need him to be good for the next game, we need him to be good for the rest of the season.
I’ve got all kinds of confidence in [Mathieu Garon] and his teammates have all kinds of confidence in him. –Coach Scott Arniel, on the goaltending situation.
Therein lies the debate. Fans want to win now. The franchise knows it has to be patient with Mason and take the long view in hoping he comes around. Not a job I’d want to have to juggle.
It took a little while for the scuttlebutt to circulate throughout the NHL world, but rumors have been swirling that Scott Howson has been talking to the New York Rangers about obtaining their first round draft pick in 2008, Michael Del Zotto.
Beyond that, the scuttlebutt (the above link plus this and this) is that Howson may have offered up defensemen Fedor Tyutin for Del Zotto. Let’s emphasize the rumor component of this part…we’re descending into the deepest of unsubstantiated rumor. The rumor-mongers then suggest that Tyutin for Del Zotto is not enough for the Rangers (and, of course, the Rangers are entitled to roll the Blue Jackets over on such a trade…like the Tyutin/Backman for Zherdev/Fritsche trade…hee hee!), so they suggest Nikita Filatov as well.
Rick Gethin of The Hockey Writers takes a look at the Jackets heading into the brief “Christmas Break”:
But, this is a club where eveyone looks at the cup as half-full, not half-empty. When asked, head coach Scott Arniel said, without hesitation, “full”. He went on, “I look at how far we jump after we gain two points (in the standings). That’s what it’s about in this conference. We’ve got two games before the break; 4 points. Nothing but 4 points.”
Of course, the club puts a positive spin on everything it says. And that is to be expected. But, the fact is that they’ve played some decent hockey, with the wins proving to be a bit elusive. “I thought we’ve played well”, said defenseman Mike Commodore. “But, playing well and not getting two points… I’d rather play bad and get two points. We’re right there. Three out of four games last week, we played well. We just weren’t rewarded for it, and that happens. We’re not going to win them all, obviously. Our power play has been better. But, it would be nice if it could start winning us some games.
This is part of the issue. It’s easy to look at the results and say this team is bad. But I don’t necessarily see it that way. They have a ways to go, yes, but they don’t look as completely lost as they did for most of last season.
But, as Rick points out, it would be nice if [they] could start winnings some games.
DP is a native north-eastern Ohioan who has been living in Columbus since 1999. DP's main area of concentration here at WFNY is the Columbus Blue Jackets hockey team, and you can catch his weekly 5-Hole columns each Tuesday. During the summers, you can also catch up on all the Columbus Clippers news that's fit to print in his Clip Show columns. In his spare time, he works in publishing, plays the drums, and wastes hundreds of dollars on Browns season tickets.