Mike Knuble, Steve Mason

Blue Jackets’ rebound hopes ultimately rest on Steve Mason’s shaky shoulders

Their financial struggles might not draw the same amount of attention as the New York Islanders or Phoenix Coyotes, but the bottom line is that the Columbus Blue Jackets are in a pretty desperate situation themselves. They’re hoping for some government help to keep them from hemorrhaging even more money and maybe even move the team, but one of the most important things that could help them turn around is a deviously simple proposition. They need to put together an actual contending team for once.

Simply put, the Blue Jackets have fallen well short of that mark for just about their entire existence, with the only minor exception being their spirited run to the playoffs in 2008-09 that was immediately squashed by a brutal sweep at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings.

Mason brings down Blue Jackets with him

In a way, that dispiriting sweep highlighted the disturbing possibility that Steve Mason’s impressive rookie season might have been a mirage. Mason has been the definition of a mediocre NHL goalie since then, sporting the save percentage of a backup (.901) and a middling record (44-47-16) during the last two seasons. And to be honest, Mason’s numbers tailed off quite a bit even in that first season; a .916 save percentage would represent a down year for Tomas Vokoun, a goalie the Blue Jackets should have at least flirted with.

Aaron Portzline points out a disturbing fact from the 2010-11 season: Brian Elliott is the only NHL goalie with 50+ starts whose save percentage and goals against average ranked lower than Mason’s marks. While the Blue Jackets are tying a pivotal season to Mason, Elliott might not even win a battle to backup Jaroslav Halak in St. Louis.

Garon’s departure removes face-saving safety net

Speaking of backups, the Blue Jackets took a problematic step back in that department, raising their risk factor that much more. Mathieu Garon escaped to Tampa Bay this off-season after producing virtually identical numbers to Mason last season. Their odds-on backup is Mark Dekanich, a prospect who has exactly one game of NHL experience to his credit.

Looking at this awfully questionable situation, it’s not surprising that Portzline thinks that if Mason goes down in flames, Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson will go down with him.

Before the Twitter neophyte introduced new additions Jeff Carter, James Wisniewski, Vinny Prospal and Radek Martinek to his 5,821 followers, Howson needed to decide whether Steve Mason was still the Blue Jackets goaltender. Not an easy choice for a general manager who has to know another season without the playoffs is likely his last.

Mason was the Calder Trophy winner in 2009 leading the Jackets to their only playoff appearance. He’s been among the league’s most inconsistent players since. He’s resembled a franchise building block on some nights and a guy trying to swat a swarm of bees on others. Of goaltenders with 50-plus appearances, only Brian Elliot had a worse goals against average and save percentage last season.

That doesn’t mean Howson has made the wrong decision. It’s just means the near futures of the goaltender and general manager are irrevocably intertwined. Howson is banking on the improvement of a fourth-year pro who has the pedigree and skills. To make the playoffs, the Blue Jackets don’t need Mason to be a great as he was in 2008-09, but they need him to be much better than he’s been the past two seasons.

I’m not so sure that Mason doesn’t need to be great, at least if you define the complete body of work that was his overrated rookie season as “great.” James Wisniewski and Jeff Carter should give the Blue Jackets more offensive punch, but neither are the kind of two-way players who dominate at both ends. In other words, an already suspect Columbus defense might be even worse next season, especially after they lost a decent defenseman in Jan Hejda and traded one of their other better ones in Rostislav Klesla last season.

The team’s formula calls for them to score a ton of goals while being just good enough in their own end. That all hinges on Mason – and quite frankly – I really don’t like their chances. What do you think, though? Will Columbus make a much-needed run to the playoffs? Let us know in the comments.

Schwartz scores in his return, Blues top the Panthers 5-3

St. Louis Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz celebrates after scoring during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Associated Press
Leave a comment

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Jaden Schwartz‘s return to St. Louis’ lineup may be just what the Blues offense needs.

Schwartz, David Backes and Robby Fabbri scored in the first period and St. Louis rolled to a 5-3 win over the Florida Panthers on Friday night.

After missing 49 games with a fractured ankle suffered during a team practice, Schwartz scored his first goal of the season to put the Blues up 2-1 at 15:57 of the first period.

“I didn’t know what to expect, so it went well. It was fun being a part of the team again and contributing,” Schwartz said. “It was a good line rush. (Tarasenko) made a great play to (Colton Parayko). He shot and I kind of went to the net and got a lucky bounce on my stick there.”

Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen also scored for the Blues, and Parayko had two assists.

St. Louis had scored just 10 goals in its last seven games, including one or fewer in five of its last six.

Winning goaltender Brian Elliott said Schwartz brings a spark.

“Yes, especially when everybody is pulling for him,” said Elliott, who had 29 saves in his 13th straight start. “He’s been watching games for I?don’t know how many months now, so it’s good to see him get back out there and put it in right away. We obviously can’t expect that every night, but he’s a big piece to our puzzle.”

Derek MacKenzie, Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau scored for Florida, and Jaromir Jagr had two assists.

Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo moved past Glenn Hall into sixth in career NHL games played with his 907th appearance. He had 10 saves before being replaced after the first period by Al Montoya. Montoya stopped 13 of 15 shots.

“It was just to shake up the team,” Florida coach Gerard Gallant said. “We weren’t happy with how we were playing. It actually worked a little bit in the second.

“They come hard. They play their game. We just didn’t play physical enough in the first. After the first, I thought we were fine.”

Gallant said he would decide Saturday if the 36-year-old Luongo would return to face the Nashville Predators for starts on consecutive nights.

The game featured a matchup of two of the league’s stingiest defenses, with Florida second-best in allowing just 2.26 goals per game while St. Louis’s 2.32 ranked fifth.

However, the first period was all about St. Louis pushing forward and taking advantage of Florida’s defensive breakdowns.

MacKenzie scored 5:05 in with his third goal against St. Louis this season, but then the Blues blitzed Luongo and the Atlantic Division-leading Panthers with three goals in a 7:25 span.

Backes ended a 10-game scoreless drought with his 13th goal at 12:16 by beating Luongo on the stick side.

“That was a big monkey off my back. It’s great to contribute offensively,” Backes said.

Schwartz put the rebound of Parayko’s shot past Luongo at 15:57 for his first of the season.

Fabbri scored on the power play with 19 seconds left for his 12th goal.

Tarasenko scored his 27th goal on a rebound at 8:00 of the second period to make it 4-1 before Ekblad’s 11th goal at 10:44 cut into the lead.

Huberdeau trimmed the margin to one goal when he tallied his 11th by tapping in a pass through the crease from Campbell at 10:47 of the third.

Steen roofed his 16th goal at 12:17 to help St. Louis regain the two-goal margin and beat the Panthers again in Florida, where the Blues haven’t lost since 2011.

“They’re just a sound team,” MacKenzie said of the Blues. “They have guys who can put the puck in the net.

“When you makes mistakes or spend too much time in your end zone, sooner or later it’s going to burn you.”

NOTES: St. Louis D Alex Pietrangelo (knee) is expected to miss at least three weeks. … Last season, the Blues were an NHL-best 21-8-3 in play outside of the Western Conference but entered their game with Florida just 10-9-5 against the Eastern this year. … The Panthers recalled F John McFarland, a 2010 second-round pick (33rd overall), from Portland (AHL). The 23-year-old McFarland was scratched from the lineup. … Florida top-line center Aleksander Barkov (upper body) missed his second consecutive game after being injured in Detroit. … The club sent down F Corban Knight.

Varlamov steps up with ‘phenomenal’ performance versus Red Wings

at Pepsi Center on February 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.
Getty Images
2 Comments

DETROIT (AP) Semyon Varlamov lifted his team to a win on a night when the rest of the Colorado Avalanche were outplayed thoroughly.

Varlamov made 43 saves and Blake Comeau scored in both the third period and the shootout to help the Avalanche to a 3-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night. It was the highest save total of the season for Varlamov.

“He was phenomenal for us,” Colorado coach Patrick Roy said. “We had back-to-back games and got in late last night. Not trying to find an excuse, but they’re a good puck-possession team. Our goalie needed to be our best player for us to win and he was.”

Matt Duchene also scored for the Avalanche, who won despite being outshot 45-21. Colorado has won nine of its last 12 road games.

Jonathan Ericsson and Pavel Datsyuk scored for Detroit, which had its three-game winning streak snapped.

“I thought we played really good,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “I thought our energy level was great, I thought we won tons of puck races and puck battles in the `O’ zone, I thought we shot the puck well, we had net presence. … What you can really control is your process and I thought our process was great.”

The Avalanche, who won at Ottawa on Thursday, improved to 6-2 on the season in the second game of back-to-backs. The shootout went four rounds, and Comeau ended it by beating Petr Mrazek with a wrist shot to the glove side.

Datsyuk scored Detroit’s only goal of the shootout. Varlamov denied Dylan Larkin, Brad Richards and Gustav Nyquist.

Nathan MacKinnon had Colorado’s first goal of the shootout on the third attempt by the Avalanche – Detroit would have won if Mrazek had stopped him.

“We play a team game. A goalie can’t win a game by himself,” Varlamov said. “We scored two nice goals, and then in the shootout a nice goal by Nate saved us and then Blake scored on a nice shot.”

Duchene opened the scoring in the first period after the Red Wings were sloppy with the puck in their own zone. Colorado’s Mikhail Grigorenko backhanded a pass to Duchene, who scored from around the edge of the crease.

Detroit evened it up in the second when Ericsson’s wrist shot from the point deflected off Duchene and then skipped off the ice surface and past Varlamov.

Comeau put Colorado ahead in the third with a shot from the slot, but the Red Wings answered on a power play when Datsyuk backhanded the puck past Varlamov from in close with 10:09 remaining in regulation.

The Avalanche had 25 blocked shots to Detroit’s four, underscoring just how much of the game was played in Colorado’s zone, but the Red Wings came away with just the one point for the shootout loss. Nyquist had a great chance in overtime when he swooped in alone on Varlamov, but his backhander was stopped.

Detroit’s Darren Helm had a career-high nine shots on goal.

“He’s shooting from everywhere,” Detroit’s Luke Glendening said. “I was hoping one would go in for him, but I think it’s a good sign that he’s getting a lot of chances.”

NOTE: Detroit D Mike Green returned after missing two games with a sore groin, and D Danny DeKeyser played after leaving Detroit’s win over Ottawa on Wednesday during the third period because of a bruised right leg. … The Red Wings were short-handed for the final 92 seconds of overtime, but managed to kill the penalty.

 

Doan makes Jets/Coyotes franchise history

509899086
Getty Images
2 Comments

The Arizona Coyotes/Winnipeg Jets franchise has a new leader in career points.

Shane Doan set the new mark at 931 points, taking over the franchise lead from Dale Hawerchuk thanks to a three-point night in a 4-1 Coyotes win over the Calgary Flames on Friday.

He scored twice — his first goal of the night tied Hawerchuk’s record — and added an assist. At 39 years of age, Doan has 21 goals this season and is on pace for his best season in that department since he scored 31 in 2008-09.

In fact, at his age and this stage in his NHL career, he could set a new personal best for goals in a single season.

Despite all the off-ice turmoil the Coyotes have gone through, and the speculation of that franchise possibly uprooting from the desert, Doan has hung in there.

That’s not to say he hasn’t spoken out at times about the constant controversies that have come up between the organization, the city of Glendale and the NHL.

In September of 2012, prior to the lockout, he had the choice to sign elsewhere. He narrowed his options down to Vancouver and Phoenix, eventually deciding to stick with the Coyotes.

No regrets.

Kopitar dominates with a hat trick to help Kings defeat Rangers in OT

St Louis Blues v Los Angeles Kings
Getty Images
2 Comments

Anze Kopitar received high praise from L.A. Kings coach Darryl Sutter following Friday’s win over the New York Rangers.

All Kopitar did was score three goals on four shots on goal. He was also credited with five hits while winning 65 per cent of his faceoffs. His third goal of the evening with 30 seconds remaining in regulation pushed this game into overtime, where Tanner Pearson scored the winner for L.A. in a 5-4 victory.

“It was Kopi’s best game of the season, that’s for sure,” said Sutter, as per LA Kings Insider.

“Not just because he scored three goals, but it was his best game all around in terms of using his whole package. I mean, he was a pretty dominant player.”

L.A. maintains an eight-point lead on the San Jose Sharks for the Pacific Division lead.

The Kings’ victory came at a cost. Marian Gaborik left the game in the first period after being involved in an awkward collision. He did not return, and Sutter didn’t have an update on the veteran forward when the game ended.