Steve Mason: The Guiding Light for the Columbus Blue Jackets

Bryan L.Contributor IFebruary 12, 2009

If the NHL season ended today the Columbus Blue Jackets would not make the playoffs. Since the puck dropped in Columbus in 2000, Blue Jacket fans have come to expect this result and have deemed the team's lack of competitiveness as acceptable.

But Jacket fans have a reason to rejoice, because the savior for hockey in Columbus was a third-round surprise.

Steve Mason has gone above and beyond Columbus' expectations. He has compiled a 19-12-2 record, with seven of those wins coming by way of shut out. That shut out mark puts him ahead of every other goaltender in the league, including All-Star Niklas Backstrom.

The man between the pipes also leads the NHL in Goals Against Average. But instead of seeing Mason battling to get noticed by the rest of the league, he is currently battling a case of Mononucleosis. I guess Steve Mason is human after all.

When Columbus selected Rick Nash with the top pick in 2002, the team falsely claimed they would become contenders with Nash anchoring the top Left Wing position. But in his first four seasons, Nash has barely been able to keep the boat afloat.

Now in his fifth season, Nash can sleep easy knowing Columbus has their first, true goaltender in the club's existence. Marc Denis, who either started or split time in goal from 2000-2006, totaled 146 losses in his stay in the capital city.

When a team has a solid netminder, the energy level escalates rapidly. Defensemen lay out for speeding slap shots, forwards dump and chase until they can't skate. And Steve Mason makes save after save after save.

With his .923 save percentage, Mason has started a new chapter in Columbus, and Rick Nash and the rest of the Blue Jackets are thankful, because they could hardly open the book. 

With the season slowly approaching the 82-game mark, coach Ken Hitchcock needs to make sure the rookie gets a few extra days of rest before the last 10 games of the season. Only four of those games are against teams that are positioned in the top eight in their respective conferences. 

Only six points separates the fifth-place team in the Western Conference from the 13th-place team. So Columbus will need all the points they can get versus as weak of a closing schedule as one can get. 

If Hitchcock plays his cards right, and gives his backbone in goal some rest in mid-March, the Columbus Blue Jackets might actually have a postseason.