COLUMBUS, Ohio – Rookie goaltender Steve Mason is getting more comfortable playing in the NHL. As a result, opposing teams aren’t so comfortable playing the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Mason made 22 saves to remain unbeaten in three career starts and the surging Blue Jackets beat the Calgary Flames 3-1 on Saturday night.
The Blue Jackets have won their last three games – beating Canadian franchises Edmonton, Montreal and Calgary since Wednesday with Mason in goal – and have collected points in their last six.
“The organization doesn’t have a reputation of being a strong team, but I think we’ve changed that this year,” he said. “And hopefully it continues.”
Jason Chimera, Derick Brassard and Manny Malhotra scored for the Blue Jackets.
“We’re definitely evolving as a team and becoming more of a team, if that makes sense,” Malhotra said. “We now have the ability to roll four lines competitively. Everybody can contribute. Our young guys are adding points and playing well. Our goaltending is standing on its head. Every aspect of our game is coming along nicely. It’s all coming together.”
Jarome Iginla scored his ninth goal for the Flames.
Mason, called up after playing just three professional games on Nov. 4, was solid in what turned into a chippy game with several fights in the closing minutes.
“With the confidence comes being more comfortable on the ice,” Mason said. “Hopefully that continues. Every day I’m feeling more comfortable on the ice, reading the speed of the game and all the plays. I’m having a lot of fun. I couldn’t ask for more.”
A Calgary giveaway led to the first score. Flames winger Rene Bourque was at the short boards when he inexplicably tried to pass across the ice in his own zone. Chimera easily intercepted it in the crease, and beat goaltender Curtis McElhinney between his leg pads.
“They capitalized on some errors that we made – and that was fundamentally the difference in the hockey game,” coach Mike Keenan said. “It was a tight game from both sides and chances to score were low. We made a couple of errors that gave them the opportunity to put the puck in the net, and they did that.”
Each team had numerous chances in the opening period, failing to score on three power plays apiece. Mason was sharp, stopping Todd Bertuzzi on a point-blank, one-on-one shot on one power play. At the other end, McElhinney smothered Brassard’s quick shot off a rebound.
Iginla tied it just 1:05 into the second, netting a hard wrist shot from the slot on a power play.
He said the Blue Jackets controlled the puck more and were smarter with it.
“Give credit to Columbus. They have a good forecheck and they are a quick team,” Iginla said. “We also have to take some of the blame because we didn’t move it the way we can. And we weren’t smart and didn’t get skating like we can.”
Brassard, the NHL rookie of the month for October, gave the Blue Jackets a 2-1 lead through two periods. Defenceman Mike Commodore tossed a high pass that Brassard controlled in the neutral zone before splitting two defenders. All alone, he deked McElhinney before sliding the puck past him for his sixth goal.
Midway through the third, Malhotra stepped in to block a shot by Cory Sarich, the puck then bouncing past Sarich. Malhotra skated by him and carried it up the left wing, faking a slap shot before flicking the puck under McElhinney’s glove. It was Malhotra’s second goal of the year.
Notes: Columbus LW Kristian Huselius, who had 25 goals and 41 assists for Calgary last season, was unable to play after getting hit in the foot with a shot on Friday night. … Calgary is at Chicago on Sunday night. … The Blue Jackets had failed to win both ends of their last five back-to-backs. … Columbus is 16-12-1 all-time against the Flames.