COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Columbus Blue Jackets have been waiting and waiting for goalie Steve Mason to look remotely like the player he was last season.
The wait ended Wednesday night. Mason stopped 32 shots for his first shutout of the season, and Jason Chimera scored for the third straight game to lead the Blue Jackets past Florida 3-0.
After winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie with a league-best 10 shutouts, Mason was feeling the pressure.
“It’s been kind of weighing on me the last little while,” he said. “Obviously, every goaltender likes to have a couple of goose eggs throughout the year. I was having trouble getting the first one but it’s nice to get it out of the way.”
The win provided a confidence boost for Mason, who came in with a record of 9-8-5 and was giving up almost 3 1/2 goals a game. He had lost all five shootouts, stopping barely half of the 1-on-1 shots he faced.
Derick Brassard ended a 14-game scoring drought with a late goal.
“I was not playing bad,” said Brassard, who only played the first 31 games last year before having season-ending shoulder surgery. “I was just not playing like a great player, which is what I want to be. For me, when you think about it, I missed 50 games last year. I’m pretty much still a rookie this year. I think it’s just going to come with experience, where you go on the ice just to be strong on pucks and make some plays.”
The Panthers lost their third in a row overall and fourth straight on the road. Both teams came in having lost eight of their last nine.
“We weren’t able to capitalize on our chances,” goalie Tomas Vokoun said. “It’s been a problem for us lately.”
Late in a first period in which the Blue Jackets buzzed the net continually, Chimera broke through. He collected the puck near the halfboards in his own end and skated almost the length of the ice before backhanding a shot Vokoun thought he trapped against his chest. The puck slipped from his grasp, and Chimera punched it between his leg pads.
It was the third time Chimera scored goals in three consecutive games. He has never scored in four straight.
The turning point of the game came midway through the third period when Mason and the Blue Jackets withstood three consecutive Florida power plays.
The Panthers also had 23 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage, but didn’t come close to scoring.
“(Antoine) Vermette won a huge draw there on the 5-on-3,” Chimera said. “We got the puck out right away, which kills 10 to 15 seconds. That’s huge. Guys were blocking shots, doing the things necessary to keep it scoreless for the big guy back there.”
Soon after the Blue Jackets killed off the second penalty, Brassard took a pass from Raffi Torres and skated to the left edge of the net before lifting the puck over Vokoun’s right shoulder. It was the first time Brassard had scored in more than a month.
Columbus killed another penalty later on.
Mason had given up 13 goals in the Blue Jackets’ three-game losing skid.
“He looked like the same Mase as last year,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “He gave us a chance tonight. He and the defencemen played very well tonight and that’s what we were looking for.”
Samuel Pahlsson added an odd empty-netter with 1:28 left, scoring unassisted while winning a centre-ice faceoff. He chopped at the puck, and it slid between the Florida defencemen and into the net.
He said it was possible that the Florida faceoff man supplied most of the momentum on the goal.
Asked if he would be calling home to brag about the goal he laughed and said, “No. No. I wouldn’t do that.”
The Blue Jackets, the youngest team in the NHL with an average age of 26 1/2, had been prevented from practising for several weeks because of a tight schedule. But Hitchcock had put them through their paces the past two days, turning the workouts into a refresher course on the fundamentals for the youngsters.
“We accomplished a lot the last two days in practice,” Mason said. “Guys really put forth a great effort. It showed tonight. I thought we looked really sharp, and we stuck to the game plan. That was the biggest thing. A lot of credit goes out to the guys because we played one heck of a game tonight.”
Notes: The Blue Jackets activated F Derek Dorsett after he missed nine games because of a concussion. … Florida came in 27th in the NHL on the power play and went 0-for-3. … Anton Stralman, who had the second assist on Brassard’s goal, set a career high with his 13th helper. … R.J. Umberger picked up his 100th career assist on Chimera’s goal.