The Blue Jackets’ nominal starter, Steve Mason, is in the midst of his third bad season in a row (but finally won a game last week, a straw that everyone on the team was desperate to clutch in the immediate aftermath of a 2-1 shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks). After Sanford’s struggles vs. Nashville, you figure Mason will get a start, either Boxing Day against Chicago, or the next night against Calgary.
If Columbus GM Scott Howson doesn’t survive beyond this year, it will be because he did nothing to shore up his goaltending in the off-season, which is how they’ve come to rely on the journeyman Sanford (5-6-3) so much, and executing a modest turnaround after a 2-12-1 start. But ultimately, if Mason ever finds his Calder Trophy form and gets his career back on the rails (as opposed to disappearing, Jim Carey-like from the scene), then the Blue Jackets have a chance to be decent, and spoil the party for a lot of teams that consider themselves real playoff and championship contenders. If not and if Howson can’t improve the netminding on the fly, then his job will be in jeopardy.
As for the Kings, well, Sutter’s biggest year as the Calgary Flames’ coach came when he rode Miikka Kiprusoff’s goaltending and timely scoring from Martin Gelinas to the seventh game of the 2004 Stanley Cup final. Maybe he can count on Quick to do the same. After all, the NHL is, in Sutter’s words, a “3-2 league.” As long as Quick keeps giving them the ‘2,’ the Kings have a chance here.
THE HAVES AND HAVE NOTS: Pity poor Martin Havlat, the often injured Ottawa Senators’ winger, who is out again, this time for up to eight weeks, after suffering a freak injury for the San Jose Sharks Tuesday night. Havlat partially tore his left hamstring, jumping over the boards, onto the ice, the way he would have 10,000 other times in his career in the most innocent of innocent plays. This time, Havlat felt something give; and he needed to crawl back to the bench, on his knees, to get off the ice. Havlat’s injury makes you want to revisit a controversial decision the Blackhawks made after the 2008-09 season, when they declined to sign Havlat to a contract extension and instead gave his money to Marian Hossa. Havlat left and then had two average seasons with Minnesota, before being swapped to the Sharks last summer for Dany Heatley, and he’d had a tough start in San Jose, even before the injury. Hossa, meanwhile, is currently No. 6 in the NHL scoring race and playing great for Chicago. Havlat for Hossa? Once upon a time, they might have been rough comparables. Not now. Not anymore.
GABBY ON A ROLL: Havlat, incidentally, signed with Minnesota in 2009, after Marian Gaborik bolted for New York to join the Rangers. Gaborik had a great first year in New York (86 points), a bad second year (48 points, including just 22 goals) and is now in the middle of one of the quietest good years in the league. Gaborik is up to 20 goals now, tied for the NHL goal-scoring lead, one of four players to reach that mark, with a day to go before the Christmas.
THE 50-GOAL ABYSS: Gaborik is joined at 20 by the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Phil Kessel, the Chicago Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steven Stamko. However, he is technically the overall leader, having played just 32 games, meaning his per-game goals average is just over 50 (50.84). Stamkos is projected to score 50.02; Kessel is at 48.38 and Toews 46.74. See the pattern ... and the problem? With 507 of the 1,230 regular-season games in the books, iI’s possible that for the first time in forever, the NHL may not have a 50-goal scorer this season. The NHL lockout - which precipitated many and varied rule changes - was supposed to change all that. It hasn’t. Last year, only Corey Perry (Anaheim) got to 50. Three years ago, only Alex Ovechkin (Washington) did. Since the start of the 2006 season, there have been only 15 50-goal seasons. Ovechkin has four, Ilya Kovalchuk and Heatley two apiece. Two others of note - Jaromir Jagr got there in ’06, but he ceded the Rocket Richard trophy that year to Jonathan Cheechoo, who had 56. You gotta figure Doug Wilson in San Jose, Bryan Murray in Ottawa and a lot of others are all asking the same question: Whatever happened to Jonathan Cheechoo?