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Notebook: Babcock cautious of Mason's slow start in Columbus

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – Columbus goalie Steve Mason hasn’t yet demonstrated his Calder Trophy-winning performance from a season ago. But Red Wings coach Mike Babcock warned about being fooled by the sophomore goalie’s early season struggles.

“I think he’s on his way back by looking at him,” Babcock said. “I think he’s a real high-end kid, who has the build and the game to develop into an upper echelon goalie. I got to know him a little better this summer at Olympic camp and learn what kind of kid he is. He’s a conscientious, hard-working kid. And they’ll try hard to play well in front of him.”

The Red Wings (7-5-3) travel to Columbus to face the Blue Jackets on Wednesday for the first time since dispatching of them in the first round of last spring’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

Mason, last season’s rookie of the year, played an essential part in helping the Blue Jackets to their first playoff berth in franchise history. Last season, he finished second in goals-against average (2.29) and first in shutouts (10) while posting a 33-20-7 record. 

But this season, Mason has struggled, suffering through six games where he’s allowed four goals or more. He only had 13 such games as a rookie.

But Babcock believes that Mason is getting better as the season progresses, and he’s getting better play from his defensemen.

“Their back-end is getting better,” Babcock said. “Adding (Anton) Stralman, he’s got comfortable and he’s found a role there where they needed a puck-mover and he’s done that. (Fedor) Tyutin moves the puck and they’ve always had (Jan) Hejda and (Mike) Commodore and (Rostoslav) Klesla, match-up, physical guys, and so now they have a little different dimension. … Their kids are coming of age. They’re a younger group that’s getting better with time.”

PP ADJUSTMENT: With Jason Williams (fractured fibula) out for considerable time, Babcock indicated that defenseman Brad Stuart will likely get some time at the point on the Wings’ second power-play unit.

“He’s got a real hard shot and he’s always played on the power-play prior to coming here,” Babcock said. “We’ve just used him far more in a penalty-kill role. We like for him to get his minutes that way, but obviously when things chance, things chance, you have to adjust.”

MEASURING STICK: In the past, Babcock has used the first 20 games of a season to evaluate his team’s progress. Even with the considerable amount of injuries suffered by the Wings this season, 20 games will remain Babcock’s benchmark.

“That’s just the way it is, and your team is what your team is,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who was on the paper at the start of the year. It’s who you dress and we’re in a situation where we understand full-well now that the group that we have in this room is who we’re going with. We have to find a way to win on a nightly basis with the group that we have. Some nights it’s going to go our way, and some nights it’s not. We just have to keep on grinding.”

HALL MEMORIES: Nicklas Lidstrom and Babcock had the pleasure to be in Toronto on Monday night to witness Steve Yzerman’s induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Class of 2009.

“It was outstanding,” Babcock said. “It’s interesting to me, and I’ve never been to it and never thought about the Hall of Fame not for one second ever in my life, I went there and was very impressed. Now I know why the guys cherish the opportunity so much, and the guys who’ve been in the Hall, you see them in their jackets and see how proud they are – Scotty (Bowman), Mr. Lindsay, all these guys are thrilled and walking around.

“Then for Steve to get enshrined like he did with his peers was great. They all spoke so well. It was a special night for him and his family, and obviously for the Red Wings’ organization, for Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch, who had him here forever and Jimmy (Devellano) and anybody who is a fan of hockey in Michigan.”

NOTEBOOK: Defenseman Brett Lebda (ill) will be a morning decision on whether or not he’ll play Wednesday at Columbus. If Lebda can’t go, Derek Meech will be in the line-up. … On Tuesday, former Red Wings forward Darren McCarty was added to Versus’ stable of hockey analysis. McCarty, a four-time Stanley Cup champion, will join the Hockey Central crew on Nov. 23 to offer unprecedented insight during the telecast of the Red Wings’ game at Nashville. He will also be joining the studio team on select telecasts throughout the regular-season.

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