This virtual hysteria began when Puck-Rakers broke the news earlier today that Steve Mason has an upper respiratory bug, and is questionable for tonight's game. This, of course, implicates the possiblity that Wade Dubielewicz will be in goal tonight, which is enough to send the supposed faithful scurrying to the exits. Those same folks are also moaning about the reported scratching of Chris Gratton in favor of Jiri Novotny.
Clearly, it is time for another public service reality check here:
1. Mason is questionable, not out. However, if he is marginal, he should be rested for this Eastern Conference game and be ready for Chicago and Detroit, IMHO.
2. When the Jackets lost to the Penguins in Game 52, we were at the end of one of our worst periods of the season. Mason was in the throes of his mono, Dubielewicz had just arrived, out of condition, without his equipment, and unused to the smaller NHL ice. On the larger ponds of Europe, there is far more time for the goalie to follow the play and react, in general. The loss to Pittsburgh ended a 3-5-1 streak for the Jackets, who then went on to go 7-0-1 in the next 8. Now, the team is basically healthy, with a guy named Vermette, and Dubielewicz has had time to round into shape and get used to the NHL ice.
3. Excuse me, but has anybody watched Novotny play in the last half dozen games? He has been a presence and contributed at both ends of the ice. He also has a much higher mobility factor than Gratton, which is important against Pittsburgh.
4. Pittsburgh is hot, but the Jackets are playing their best defensive hockey of the year, and are showing signs of an offensive resurgence as well. The formula is well known to the Jackets by now -- an Eastern team with speed and some high priced talent on the wings. Disrupt their timing, stand them up at the Blue Line, and transition out of the zone. That recipe has given us a record of 11-3-1 against the East. If Dubie goes tonight, pay extra attention to the vision lanes, as he does not have Mason's size.
5. Pittsburgh has surrendered 210 goals already this season, and Fleury is being ridden almost as hard as Mason. He can be had. Remember 8 - 2 against Detroit, in their house? Pittsburgh's defense is not close to Detroit's, so we need to take advantage by peppering Fleury and maintaining possession in their zone.
6. Keep the PK strong and cash in one or two power plays.
Predicition here is Jackets 5, Penguins 3. We have a monster home crowd in our favor tonight, Hitch gets rewarded for #500, and we are halfway throught the toughest stretch of the remaining season in terms of the schedule. Go Jackets!