Jackets Still Searching for a Spark
After weeks of players’ meetings, intense practices, line jumbles and just about everything short of a trade, Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock has played about the last card in his hand to try to spark this team. Steve Mason is no longer the starter in goal for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Starting with tonight’s game in Phoenix, Hitchcock is adopting a “win and you’re in” philosophy in goal. Mathieu Garon, who is 1-0-1 against the ‘Yotes this season, will get the start tonight. If he wins or plays well, as he did in the 2-1 shutout loss the Phoenix last week, Garon will be in net Wednesday at Dallas and could be for the foreseeable future.
Putting Garon in is not the be-all-end all solution to the Jackets woes this season. While Steve Mason has struggled mightily, Garon too has had poor games in behind the porous Jackets defense. With that said, Mason needs to realize that he has to compete for every minute of ice time he sees. The 2008-2009 season is over and a Calder win and runner-up finish for the Vezina don’t stop peewee-style Chris Stewart backhands for you. Hitchcock has made every other player on this team earn their time, to the extent that many consider it a detriment (Nikita Filatov anyone?). It’s about time the Mason got with the program.
Riding the hot goalie is one of the most successful hockey philosophies out there. If a guy pitches a shutout and your other guys struggling, it shouldn’t even be a question who starts in net the next night. Obviously the mental aspect of the game affects goalies in most cases more so than position players, but it’s for that precise reason that you ride the hot goalie. That’s how Steve Mason won his job last year. That’s how Carolina won the Stanley Cup on 2006. Sometimes personal pride has to take a hit for the team to succeed. Good goalies use that as motivation to win back starting jobs and the trust of their teammates. Other goalies become shell-shocked and rarely return to their top form. It’s time to find out what kind of goaltender, what kind of person, Steve Mason is.
The change in the crease won’t be the only significant switch in tonight’s game. Jakub Voracek, who’s been about the only player not to skate with Rick Nash, will get his shot tonight. He will join Nash and Antoine Vermette on the first line tonight. Interestingly, Voracek will move to the left wing and Rick Nash will stay on the right. Voracek has played right wing all season on the second line, but Nash’s natural position is on the left. Hitchcock started playing Nash on the right when it became abundantly clear that Kristian Huselius could not. He’s kept Nash on the right because the team is backlogged with left wingers, including but not limited too Huselius, Jason Chimera, Raffi Torres, RJ Umberger (who has excelled on the wing although he is a natural center) and Fredrick Modin (who’s been forced to move to the right side as well). It will be interesting if at any point during the game, Hitchcock switches Nash and Voracek around.
Voracek has been one of the most consistent Jackets all season long and has more than earned the opportunity to play on the first line. Jakub is fifth on the team in scoring with 8-13-21 in 36 games. He’s on pace to set career highs in goals, assists and points. He’s one goal away from tying his total from last season. He’s still getting used to his larger frame but he’s becoming a force to be reckoned with on the boards and in open ice. He’s the player that the franchise has tapped to play along side Nash in the future, but the future is now for the struggling Jackets.
The playoffs are quickly becoming a more and more distant possibility. The arena issues have not been solved and lackluster attendance numbers, which are completely justified, are not making for a volatile season. And unfortunately, personell-wise, the Jackets will have to wait for the after-Christmas sales to pick up another player. The roster freeze will not be lifted until the December 26th. There are three games between now and then to help define the season.
-Other lines shakeups include Derick Brassard returning to center the second line between Chimera and Umberger. The Three Swedes will be reunited on the third line with Huselius, Sammy Pahlsson and Modin. Mike Blunden returns to the lineup tonight to center the fourth line between Torres and Jared Boll.
-Mathieu Garon, who will start tonight in net has given up just one goal in regulation against Phoenix this season.
-The Dispatch reports that Anton Stralman is “somewhere between questionable and probable” for tonight’s game in Glendale, AZ.