Steve Mason didn’t need to be reminded about his record on the road this season.
The Blue Jackets goaltender has not had the type of season his numbers suggest, and head coach Scott Arniel is the first to point that out. Earlier in the year, when the team wasn’t playing well in front of any of their goalies, Mason was called upon too many times to bail out his mates.
Tonight, in Dallas, he was comfortable right from the start and is making his coach's decisions more difficult by the day -- a good problem for Arniel to have. Before and after the Blue Jackets' 4-1 win, Mason noted that he likes to play in American Airlines Center, an arena that uses bright, goaltender-friendly lighting."
He made 36 saves against a Stars team that never stopped coming, and was a major factor in a big victory for Columbus. In his last two starts (including Tuesday vs. Calgary), Mason has made 60 saves and yielded just a two goals while carrying a 1.00 goals-against average.
"He was outstanding,” Arniel said. “I thought he was good the other night at home, but we didn’t give him a lot of run support. They had a lot of shots; in the first period, it was 17-7 or whatever it was, but we kept a lot to the outside.
He was there and controlled his rebounds, and made a couple of big stops late in the third."
Mason pointed to his time off the last few weeks, when Curtis Sanford was seeing the majority of starts, as a period in which he was able to get valuable practice time with goaltending coach Ian Clark.
He has come out of that stretch re-energized and focused – and the numbers show it.
I'm feeling really good right now,” Mason said. “That time when (Sanford) was getting the consecutive starts really gave me an opportunity to work on some things, and I feel good about my game and things are going well.
Some of his finest work tonight came in the second half of the game, when the Blue Jackets’ defensemen had to step up in the absence of James Wisniewski. Wisniewski left the game in the second period after blocking a shot, resulting in a lower-body injury that Arniel believes to be a broken ankle.
Nikita Nikitin, Fedor Tyutin, Marc Methot and Grant Clitsome each played over 22 minutes against the Stars, with the bulk of that time coming after Wisniewski’s injury. Their presence on two late penalty kills was important, clearing shooting lanes for Mason and taking care of second-chance opportunities.
"It's always tough losing a guy, especially a guy that eats up big minutes like Wiz does,” Mason said. “You have to give credit to the rest of the defensemen there – that was a lot of minutes to take on and we had to kill two penalties at the end.
“He needs to be the backbone of this team for us to win games, and he’s starting to show that now." - Captain Rick Nash
"That’s a lot of extra work for them and they did a great job.”
The consensus coming out of the Blue Jackets locker room post-game was that it took a full team effort to defeat the Stars, especially in a building that has not been kind to them over the years.
“He was great – we believe in him,” Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash said of Mason’s performance. “He needs to be the backbone of this team for us to win games, and he’s starting to show that now.
“The penalty kill was great, the defense was great…we had five (defensemen) halfway through the game, and they really stepped up. We kept the pedal down tonight and kept moving forward.”
Mason’s three-dozen saves came in different ways, shapes and forms, but his teammates helped take care of the area in front of him. There were no wild melees in the crease or secondary opportunities, a testament to the Blue Jackets’ back-checking when the Stars tried to get out on the rush.
“I really noticed the guys on the backcheck,” Mason said. “They really put forth a strong effort to make sure they were getting back to break up odd-man rushes that Dallas may have had.
“A lot of people are wondering if everybody cares on this team, and tonight was a good effort to show that we do.”