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Mason's stock continues to rise

by John Kreiser
For someone who's been in the NHL all of two months, Columbus goaltender Steve Mason has made quite an impression.

Mason has taken the Blue Jackets' starting job -- bumping Pascal Leclaire, who had nine shutouts in 2007-08 -- into a backup role and sending Fredrik Norrena back to Europe. Most importantly, he has the Blue Jackets competing for the first playoff berth in franchise history.

Mason broke a franchise record with three-consecutive shutouts (two last week) and a scoreless streak of 199 minutes, 19 seconds before the Colorado Avalanche finally scored against him -- the only goal he allowed in a 6-1 win. Though his won-lost record is "only" 13-8-1, Mason leads the NHL with a 1.81 goals-against average, shares the lead in shutouts with five and is .0002 behind League-leader Craig Anderson of Florida for the best save percentage -- he's at .9332; Anderson has a .9334 percentage.

Not bad for a 20-year-old.
Five up -- Five players who've been hot:

Jonathan Quick -- Jason LaBarbera is a Vancouver Canuck today largely because of the play of Quick, who has grabbed the No. 1 goaltending job in Los Angeles. Though he's only 3-2-0 in his last five decisions, two of the wins were shutouts and he's surrendered just four goals in the five games.

Rick Nash -- Columbus' captain is on one of the best rolls of his career. He had 2 goals and 9 points in the Jackets' four games last week, including a penalty-shot goal and three assists in a 6-1 win over Colorado. He's on pace to break 80 points for the first time in his career.

Pavel Datsyuk -- Numbers don't do justice to the Wings' star center. A national TV audience saw him score the slickest goal in the Winter Classic and his shootout winner at Minnesota two nights later are what highlight films are for. He's also 8-9-17 in his last 10 games.

Richard Park -- Park had as good a two-day stretch as anyone in the NHL this season, scoring 3 goals and setting up 3 more while going plus-5 for the struggling New York Islanders. The veteran forward is on pace for his first 20-goal season.

Mike Green -- Washington's best offensive threat from the blue line is healthy and producing again. He has goals in each of his last two games and put up 6 points in four games after returning from a second bout with shoulder problems.

Five down -- Five players who are struggling:

Jordan Staal --
Staal had a breakout game against Detroit in early November, but hasn't done much since then. He's had no points and is minus-4 in Pittsburgh's last six games, and is a big reason the slumping Pens start the week outside the top eight in the East.

Matt D'Agostini -- After getting off to a fast start with four goals in his first five NHL games, D'Agostini's stick has gone cold. The Montreal rookie has no points and is minus-4 in his last five games at a time when the injury-riddled Canadiens need him most.
Jannik Hensen —Vancouver's first-year Danish center has also gone cold after a good start. He hasn't had a point in his last eight games and is minus-3 in that span.

Tobias Enstrom -- Enstrom's offensive skills made him a pleasant surprise for Atlanta last season, but he's stopped producing. The 24-year-old Swede hasn't had a point in 10 games and is just 1-8-9 in 40 games.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere -- The 2003 Conn Smythe winner has struggled since returning from a two-game absence for personal reasons. He's 0-2-2 in his last four starts and has allowed 14 goals in that span. He's losing playing time to backup Jonas Hiller, who shut out Phoenix on Sunday.

Injuries, news and notes -- Marian Gaborik's season will be on hold for a while. Minnesota's top gun will undergo surgery designed to correct a hip "deficiency" that's been causing his groin problems. He'll miss at least 10 weeks, but could be back by the end of the regular season.

Out -- Chicago's Patrick Kane sat out Sunday's game with a high ankle sprain. The All-Star Game starter was injured in Tuesday's game at Detroit, but played (at less than full strength) in the Winter Classic Thursday. There's no word about how long he'll be out. ... Tampa Bay defenseman Jamie Heward is out indefinitely with a concussion sustained when he was hit into the glass by Washington's Alex Ovechkin Thursday. Ovechkin was not suspended. Lightning defenseman Paul Ranger also left Thursday's game with an upper body injury and missed the Bolts' next two games. ... Montreal center Alex Tanguay separated his left shoulder on Dec. 30 and is expected to miss at least six weeks. Goaltender Carey Price has sat out the Canadiens' last two games with a lower body injury. ... Washington forward Alexander Semin returned Saturday after missing more than two weeks with a back injury. ... Atlanta center Bryan Little, one of the Thrashers' few offensive threats, left Sunday's game against Tampa Bay with a rib injury. ... Philadelphia forward Claude Giroux didn't play Saturday due to a head injury sustained the night before. Forward Joffrey Lupul sustained an undisclosed lower body injury on Friday and sat out Saturday's game in Los Angeles. ... Ottawa defenseman Anton Volchenkov, returning after missing three games, left Saturday's game at Toronto after apparently re-injuring his shoulder. He didn't play Sunday at New Jersey. ... Carolina forward Patrick Eaves missed Saturday's game with an upper body injury sustained Friday night. ... Buffalo forward Maxim Afinogenov left Saturday's game against Boston with a groin injury. In the same game, Boston defenseman Aaron Ward was sidelined with a leg injury -- he had played only three games since returning from an ankle injury. ... Edmonton's Ales Hemsky sat out the week after apparently sustaining a concussion against Nashville last Sunday. ... Colorado defenseman Adam Foote left Sunday's game with an arm injury and didn't return. The Avs also placed defenseman Cody McCormick on IR with a broken foot. ... Anaheim defenseman Kent Huskins is out for 2-3 weeks with a broken foot, an injury that may have been sustained in mid-December. ... Vancouver lost a second goaltender to a groin injury when Curtis Sanford had to leave Tuesday's game. Sanford has gotten most of the playing time while Roberto Luongo recovers from a groin injury sustained in November. ... The Islanders placed center Mike Sillinger on IR with a hip injury. He's missed most of the season while recovering from hip surgery late last season. ... Toronto forward Jeremy Williams left early in Tuesday's game due to a shoulder injury and hasn't played since.

Returning -- Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom was back in the lineup for the Winter Classic on Thursday after missing two games with an ankle injury sustained while blocking a shot on Dec. 26. ... Pittsburgh got forward Tyler Kennedy back Saturday. He had been out since Dec. 3 with a sprained knee. ... Alexander Semin was back in the lineup for Washington on Saturday after missing more than two weeks with a back injury. ... Philadelphia hopes to get forward Simon Gagne (shoulder injury) back this week, perhaps as early as Tuesday in Washington. The Flyers got forward Scottie Upshall back on Friday after he missed 10 days with a knee injury. ... Buffalo might get oft-injured center Tim Connolly back this week. He hasn't played since Nov. 14 due to broken ribs. ... Atlanta rookie defenseman Zach Bogosian, who played one game after returning from a broken leg, was sent to Chicago of the AHL for conditioning. ... Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood played Saturday night; he'd been sidelined with a groin injury since Dec. 15. ... Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro played Friday after sitting for a week with a groin injury. ... Chicago forward Adam Burish returned Sunday after missing 14 games with a broken toe.

Still out -- Boston forward Marco Sturm will have knee surgery in the near future and could miss the rest of the season. He went down with the injury on Dec. 18, in his first game back after a concussion. GM Peter Chiarelli said he expects another forward, Patrice Bergeron, to play again this season. Bergeron, who missed most of last season due to a concussion, sustained another one on Dec. 20. ... Minnesota defenseman Kurtis Foster, sidelined all season after a severe leg fracture last March, says he could be back in about a month. ... Nashville forward Scott Nichol, out since Dec. 9 with a concussion, hopes to return to practice this week, but there's no timetable for his return to the ice. ... San Jose center Jeremy Roenick, who had shoulder surgery on Dec. 14, is skating in practice but not taking part in contact drills. There's no date set for his return. ... Pittsburgh defenseman Sergei Gonchar skated on Friday for the first time since he had surgery to repair his shoulder in September. However, he's still weeks away from returning. ... Ottawa defenseman Cody Bass, injured last week in a game at Calgary, apparently needs shoulder surgery and is likely to miss the rest of the season. ... New Jersey defenseman Colin White has missed four games with an upper body injury, though he might be able to play this week.

The week ahead -- The season reaches the halfway point this week with seven teams facing four games and just five playing only twice. One oddity: Edmonton plays four games -- but all of them are at home.

Games to watch:    

Pittsburgh at New York Rangers (Jan. 5) --
A national television audience will see if the Penguins can break out of their slump with a victory at Madison Square Garden, a place they've had trouble winning over the past couple of years.

Philadelphia Flyers at Washington Capitals (Jan. 6) -- The Flyers come back East after games in Vancouver and Southern California to visit the Caps, who want to avenge a 7-1 loss at the Wachovia Center on Dec. 20.

Anaheim at Los Angeles (Jan. 8) -- The Ducks head up the freeway for the back end of a home-and-home series that begins two nights earlier in Anaheim.

New York Rangers at Ottawa (Jan. 10) --
You'll have to forgive Ottawa fans if they don't recognize their team: The Senators will be playing their first home game after an eight-game trip while the World Junior Championships took over Scotiabank Place.

Chicago at Nashville (Jan. 10) -- The Hawks visit Sommet Center for the start of a home-and-home series on consecutive nights against their Central Division rivals.

Tough week ahead:
New Jersey Devils --
It's a four-game week for the Devils, including three in four nights. New Jersey visits Carolina on Tuesday, hosts Atlanta two nights later, then flies West for weekend games in Southern California.

San Jose Sharks -- It's back on the road for the Sharks, who made a pit stop on Saturday for a 5-3 home win over the Islanders following a three-game Midwest trip, but flew right back out for a three-game tour of Western Canada this week.

Pittsburgh Penguins -- The Pens will have their suitcases packed, with three of their four games on the road. They start in New York, come home to face Atlanta, then head out for games at Nashville and Colorado.

Easy week ahead:

Calgary Flames --
This is a good breather week for the Flames. Not only do they play just twice, at home, but both games are against last-place teams -- the St. Louis Blues and New York Islanders.

Boston Bruins -- The Bruins stay home for all three games this week, and that's bad news for Minnesota, Ottawa and Carolina -- the B's have lost just twice in regulation at TD Banknorth Garden this season and figure to be in a foul mood after Saturday's 4-2 loss to Buffalo.

Detroit Red Wings -- The Wings are also home for all three games this week against three teams that aren't on their level (Columbus, Dallas and Buffalo) and no back-to-backs.
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