By Phil Foley
PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer
ATLANTA (Ticker) -- Captain Rick Nash's continued hot play
helped rookie goaltender Steve Mason record his first career
Nash extended his goal-scoring streak to five games with a
backhanded tally in the first period and set up another goal,
leading the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 2-0 blanking of the
listless Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday.
Mason turned aside 15 shots and R.J. Umberger added an empty-net
goal for Columbus, which has won five of eight.
"Anytime you hold a team to (15) shots, it's a good night," Blue
Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We're really inching towards
being a good team. We're doing some things to get ourselves to
the next level."
Nash has been on fire of late, snapping a nine-game goalless
drought by notching 10 points (four goals, six assists) in his
previous four games.?? He was at it again in this one, netting
the game-winner in an otherwise uneventful game at Philips
Midway through the first period, defenseman Ole-Kristian
Tollefsen unleashed a slap shot toward Atlanta netminder Ondrej
Pavelec from the left point.
The shot bounced off the stick of Atlanta blue-liner Ron Hainsey
to Nash. The former Maurice Richard Trophy winner slid a
backhander into the open side of the net at 8:36 to give the
Blue Jackets a 1-0 lead.
"I got very lucky," Nash admitted. "It came onto my stick and I
put it in for the game-winning goal."
Nash also notched an assist on Columbus' second tally, sliding
the puck to Umberger, who shot it into an empty net with 78
seconds remaining in the third.
"Obviously, he's a special player," Blue Jackets defenseman Mike
Commodore said of Nash. "He didn't score a goal for nine games
and people were worried. He's the best player on our team, and
you know it's just a matter of time when you're talented like
Nash returned the compliment to Commodore and the Blue Jackets'
entire defense corps.
"(It's tough to stop Atlanta), especially against a team with
(Ilya) Kovalchuk and (Vyacheslav) Kozlov," Nash said. "We have
to give credit to our defense. They shut them down tonight."
A combination of opportune offense and a defensive unit that
blocked 16 shot attempts was enough to help Mason record his
first NHL shutout.?? The 20-year-old was rarely tested, turning
aside four shots in the first session, five in the second and
six in the third.
"I'm just going to try to take it in stride," Mason said.
"Overall, it was a pretty simple game. The only hard part was
Pavelec wished that his night was that easy. The Czech steered
aside a career-high 29 shots but fell victim to his club's
"It was a lucky bounce on the first goal," Pavelec said. "It's
a little bit frustrating for us. We have to stay focused and
win as a team."
The Thrashers once again listlessly meandered through the first
two periods in a comatose Philips Arena.
Atlanta, which did not register a shot until more than 11
minutes into the game, looked like it was going through the
motions over the first two sessions, mustering just nine shots
through the first 40 minutes.
The Thrashers have been outshot by a staggering 72-31 margin
over the first two periods of their last three games. Not
surprisingly, they have been on the wrong side of the scoreboard
in all three of those contests.
"I thought our team was a little flat," Atlanta coach John
Anderson said. "We got to play 60 minutes like it's like the
leadoff hitter makes a home run or a double to get the team
started. We need something like that."
Unfortunately for Atlanta, their third period was not much
"We can't come out flat and try to make it up in the third
(period)," Thrashers defenseman Garnet Exelby said. "We need to
come out hungry to play in the first and not get behind. We are
going to be in big trouble by Christmas for the playoff picture
if we keep this up."
About the only excitement for the home crowd of 15,561 was a
shot by defenseman Niclas Havelid that rattled off the crossbar
in the first period, and a fracas between Exelby and Jared Boll
of the Blue Jackets midway through the second.
Exelby was black-and-blue in the place they call "Blueland"
after that fight as Boll landed a number of punches to the