After two solid performances on the road, Curtis Sanford had earned the right to start tonight vs. the Calgary Flames, but that right has become a necessity after Steve Mason was injured by a shot off of his mask during this morning's pre-game skate, requiring an emergency recall of Allen York to serve as Sanford's backup.
Though Scott Howson had stuck firmly to Mason as a potential franchise netminder, his initial backup plan exploded, the backup to the backup plan was on hold briefly due to Sanford's earlier groin injury, and now we're on what could loosely be referred to as "Plan E" in net with the Sanford / York tandem, and the E stands for "Entirely unanticipated."
While Scott Howson stated just over a week ago that he was "aggressively" looking for a deal for a netminder, you have to think his phone bill just got a little longer.
When comparing the Jackets to other clubs who made extensive rebuilds (particularly the Wild and Panthers), the biggest contrast (aside from the Jackets' early season injury / suspension woes) has been the strength in net. While it's easy with hindsight to say that Scott Howson made a mistake in not trying to bring in a better augmentation (or replacement) for Mason, I couldn't help but wonder what the team's results might have been with "league average" goaltending over the first 17 games of the season, where Mason frequently struggled, and York found difficulties when pressed into action.
At this point in the season, the Jackets are an NHL worst at 3.53 goals allowed per game. League average can be tricky to define, but with the 15th ranked team (Calgary, ironically enough, given tonight's matchup) at 2.61 GA/G, it seems like a decent benchmark to say that "average" goaltending would result in one less goal against per game.
Of the team's current 13 regulation losses, 6 would still have been lost regardless of allowing one less goal (this includes the two blowout losses to Chicago and the epic blowout vs. Philly. Would the losses have, perhaps, been less epic? An interesting hypothetical.)
In the team's remaining 7 regulation losses, five games were decided by one goal, or an empty net goal to provide a 2 goal margin. Let's say they went to OT. The team's SO loss vs. Colorado (tied in the final minute, as you likely recall), would have potentially been a win, but losses to Minnesota, Dallas, and Buffalo were likely to have stood. The team's lack of offense would still have been an issue, but looking a bit more respectable when not forced to compete from behind.
If the Jackets had split their potential OT games (we'll even make the odd one out a loss), you'd be looking at a record of 7-8-4 and 18 points on the season. Not world beating, but at least enough to be in the middle tier of non-playoff teams and with ambitions of perhaps moving up with a strong performance over the next 10 games.
As it remains, the Jackets' start has left them deep into a hole that they are unlikely to escape, and the rest of us wondering just what might have been...