With two points and a big division game in front of them, many were surprised that Mathieu Garon would not be starting after his 3-0 shutout of the San Jose Sharks on Saturday evening.
Garon, after all, had played very well against San Jose, and conventional wisdom says that shutouts normally guarantee playing time.
But there's another factor that wasn't considered: Garon's role inside the team.
When Garon was brought in, one of the phrases bandied about by both the front office and various commentors was that the veteran backup would push Steve Mason. By forcing him to compete for his ice time against a backup who could take the job away, it would make him a better goaltender - to push him to improve.
On a night where the entire team was being asked to push through the fatigue of a three game West coast trip, and four games in five nights, Mason took his crease with authority, and pushed the Predators right out of town.
The best way I can describe the early game is "fluid" - both teams had some decent opportunities, but neither felt like they were truly setting up and controlling play very much - the defenses for both Columbus and Nashville did a great job of breaking plays and forcing the puck out of their zones.
After each side traded a power play opportunity, it would be the Jackets who opened the scoring a bit past the midpoint of the first period. Antoine Vermette beat Joel Ward and Jordin Tootoo to the puck in the Jackets' zone along the far boards, then slipped a pass to Nikita Filatov. The young Russian made his way past Jared Smithson and Francis Bouillon, then got the puck up to R.J. Umberger as the second line tore their way up the ice. Joined on the 3 on 2 rush by Mike Commodore, Umberger sent the puck cross-ice to the big defenseman, who fired the puck through Rinne's 5-hole as the Finnish goaltender came out to challenge the shot for what would be the game winning goal.
Oops. Spoiler. My bad.
Thought the Jackets would earn another power play opportunity in the dying seconds of the first period, the team's woes with the man advantage would continue - the team would, in fact, go 0-5 tonight with the extra skater, but Nashville's PK did an excellent job of not allowing the shooters to set up, and generally disrupting the play.
The Jackets appeared to have solved Rinne about halfway through the second period when Mike Commodore dug the puck out behind the Nashville net and attempted a diving feed to Antoine Vermette on the doorstep, but video review showed that the puck did not completely cross the goal line before Rinne was able to get his glove down.
Frustrated, but not defeated, the Jackets would soldier on, and while they could not convert on another power play, the first line would put matters into their own hands with just over five minutes to go in the second period. Nash would take a puck at the border of the Columbus defensive zone and make a smooth outlet pass to Derick Brassard. Brass would slide up ice and get the puck ahead to Jakub Voracek, who entered the zone and curled down to below the left faceoff circle before firing the puck across the ice to Nash, who went to one knee as he slapped the puck past Rinne for the 2-0 lead.
The goal continued Nash's scoring streak, now tying his own franchise record at nine consecutive games, and extended Brassard's assist streak as well.
From there, though the game remained tense, the ending seemed no longer in doubt, though the Jackets would receive news that Marc Methot had aggravated a previous upper body injury sustained on the road trip, and would not return to the game, and Mason would appear to hurt himself a bit making a sprawling save on Marcel Goc late in the third period to preserve the shutout, but the goaltender would right himself and finish the game, making several more big stops as time wound down.
The dagger, however, would come with less than a minute and a half to go, after the Predators had pulled Rinne for the extra skater. Winning a battle for the puck, Rick Nash would send Jakub Voracek up the ice, and Shane O'Brien would be forced to take a penalty, pulling the Czech winger down just past center ice, rather than giving up the empty net goal. Forced to return Rinne to his crease, the Jackets would not score on the final power play, but losing the momentum of the extra attacker broke Nashville's attempts to force their way back into the fight.
Final Score: Jackets Win 2-0.
The shutout win by Mason set a franchise record for back to back wins by the goaltending tandem. The entire team contributed - blocking shots, getting physical, and winning puck battles.
If this is how they play when the team keeps in the "road mentality", maybe Scott Howson should put them up at the Hyatt through June.
- Steve Mason - Mason has now stopped 74 shots in his last two games. 'Nuff said.
- Mike Commodore - In addition to the GWG, Commodore spent the game giving the Predators' offense fits. Great outing for Commie - I think he's going to make it very hard for the team to return him to the press box.
- Rick Nash - Nash probably could have had another hat trick if Rinne hadn't made some highlight reel saves, including an incredible stop on a sharp angle shot that Rinne had to extend his glove backwards over his own leg for.
- Jakub Voracek - Great passing, good effort, and most importantly, he finally got into the joke with his "Thanks, Raffi!" sign off to John Mitchell during the second intermission interview.
- Jared Boll - With the Jackets nursing the 2 goal lead midway through the 3rd period, Shane O'Brien tried to get Boll to go. Boll jawed a bit with the Predators d-man, but finally just pointed up at the scoreboard and skated away. Nice.
Again, I don't really see a need for a Bottom of The Barrel tonight - about the only things I'm worried about is if Methot will be in shape to go Wednesday, and if the team can get the Power Play going at home after finally kick-starting it on the road.
Regardless, a fantastic win for the Jackets, who now sit second in the Central Division and fourth in the Western Conference standings.
The Jackets will practice tomorrow at Nationwide Arena before heading to upstate New York to take on the Islanders Wednesday night at Nassau Coliseum. The puck drops at 7pm - and don't forget that the team will be unveiling the new third jerseys that night during the first intermission at Tuttle Mall.