Blue Jackets’ goaltender Steve Mason is suffering from a sophomore slump and is handicapping the Jackets.
After playing brilliantly through his rookie season, Mason’s play has regressed and has left the Jackets hurting.
Last season, Mason provided a lift for the Jackets in their best season in franchise history. Mason put on a spectacular display on a nightly basis, racking up 10 shutouts and eventually winning NHL Rookie of the Year honors.
This year, however, is a different story. Mason’s save percentage has fallen from .916 to .890 and his goals against average has increased by more than a full goal.
While the Jackets haven’t helped him by continually turning over the puck in their own zone, Mason’s play leaves much to be desired.
He has repeatedly allowed easy goals and in more than one occasion forced coach Ken Hitchcock to pull him from games. Mason currently leads the NHL with 15 losses after losing only 20 games all of last season.
While Mason is and will be a great goaltender in this league, the Jackets don’t have the luxury of letting him work through his slump on the ice.
The Jackets are fourth in the Central Division and third-worst in the Western Conference.
If the Jackets are to have any chance at making the playoffs they need to get on track immediately. Believe it or not, the playoffs aren’t out of the question.
At this juncture last year, the Jackets were only four points ahead of where they are now. The St. Louis Blues were actually three points behind where the Jackets are now and managed to play themselves into the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference.
But if the Jackets have any aspirations of climbing back into the race, they need a spark.
That spark might be backup goaltender Mathieu Garon.
Garon has been in net for the Jackets past three games, all of which the Jackets won. Garon was honored as one of the NHL’s three Stars of the Week for his performance, which included a shutout Sunday of Dallas.
Garon has a lower goals against average (2.55) than Mason, and a higher save percentage (.909).
At this point, the Jackets have played themselves into a goaltender controversy. Since the Jackets are desperate for a boost, Hitchcock should continue to start Garon until the Olympic break, which starts Feb. 15 for the Jackets.
Garon has shown he can be effective if given the chance to play in consecutive games and deserves a shot with Mason struggling.
During the break, the team can re-evaluate where they are in the standings and the goaltender situation.
Worst-case scenario, the Jackets continue to play sub .500 hockey and are out of the playoff picture.
In that case the team can go back to Mason and see if he can get back on track.
Or, Garon might provide the lift the Jackets desperately need in which case Hitchcock can stick with him in net and use Mason as the backup.