Monday, December 7, 2009

Setting the Record Straight: Steve Mason

I have spent many hours this season reading articles designed to belittle Steve Mason and his "sophomore slump." While the stats tell the story to any 'fan' who watches the odd game and weighs in, or a hockey analyst sitting a plane ride away, trying to find credible discussions, I would like to take the opportunity to clear the air on some blatant misconceptions regarding our number one.

First and foremost, they are wrong. Not completely, but conceptually, their argument is flawed. While some would argue that he should be playing at the same capacity that he did last year, I argue that he may have been playing some of the best hockey of his career, and anything slightly below that is completely reasonable. He made saves that did not register logically for me. He embarrassed other teams top scorers, and turned aside enough pucks to get the entire fanbase supporting him. He won games for the team rather than the team winning games for him, but he did it with something he does not have this year.


Go to any sports fan and ask them what the key to winning is. Most of the time, they will break it down into two categories; a structured offense with solid weaponry, and a stymy defense that has the ability to deflate even the most potent of opportunities. This year, The Jackets do not have either. I would like to talk about both.

First, the offense. In a word, the best depiction of their offensive chances would be sporadic. Rarely consistent, I have personally watched the Jackets offensive sleep through 45 minutes of a game, only to turn it on for 10 minutes. It has happened in multiple games where they score two or three very quick goals, and then fall back into the Hitchcock coma, allowing the opposing team to get right back into the game. If the Jackets can sustain their powerful offense throughout a 60 minute game, it would not be a surprise to me if they started winning games by a two to four goal margin.

Now, to the defense. Last year, the pride of the Jackets was their defense, lead by the shutdown pairing of Hejda and Commodore. This year, with both being given an excuse to play poorly on account of their injuries, the Jackets lack the necessary pairing to keep the other teams first line in check. Kris Russell is getting more and more confident with the puck, but he needs to be complimented by a defensive defensemen with a mind for his own zone first. Pairing Russell with Stralman is both illogical and nonsensical. Everything this team is built on suggests that a defensive defensemen should be paired with an offensive defensemen, and I believe it is costing them games.

Once the Jackets shore up their defense, Mason will be given the freedom to build back the confidence lost on account of the blown asisgnments and goals being scored on plays that do not give him a chance to make the save. With the NHL scouting the way it is now, it is not hard for opposing teams to note how much freedom is being given in front of the Jackets net, and until they resolve the gaps, Mason will continue to be scored on. Not a goalie in the NHL will resolve these issues.

Carry the Flag! -- The Jackets don't play again until Wednesday, but stop by tomorrow for another hard hitting piece.

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