After the Columbus Blue Jackets fired head coach Ken Hitchcock, most pundits expected the team’s younger players to return to form. Little did anyone expect the reigning Calder Trophy winner to improve his terrible totals and resemble the double digit shutout threat that took the hockey world by storm last season.
Interim coach Claude Noel gives Steve Mason the confidence he needs to play up to potential. In his two games since the Hitchcock firing the 21-year-old stopped 50 of 51 shots, giving him a .050 GAA and .980 SV% in 120 minutes. He registered his first shutout of the new year last night with his last perfect game coming on December 28th.
As shown from last year’s totals Mason projects as an elite level goaltender. Few players posted similar totals just one year ago as he finished second in GAA and first in shutouts, edging out talent like Roberto Luongo and Evgeni Nabokov.
So what went wrong this season? Simple answer: Hitchcock.
Known for dissolving the confidence of young players the Hitchcock effect struck again. Other troubled youngsters Jakub Voracek and Derick Brassard combined for four points last night against the Northeast Division leading Buffalo Sabres showing how badly the team needed a change in regime.
Hitchcock held a reputation of a tight defensive system which usually gave his goaltenders an advantage. As of this writing the Blue Jackets netminders allowed the third most goals in the league, a trend which should change by season’s end.