Long before the ice storm turned central Ohio sidewalks into luge runs and driveways into treacherous terrain, Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason was having difficulty gaining traction.

Throughout the season, short stretches of decent play have been followed by inevitable slipups like the one Tuesday in the Jackets' 7-4 loss to the Blackhawks.

Mason was pulled from a start for an NHL-high sixth time - tying him with New Jersey's Martin Brodeur and Ottawa's Brian Elliott - after allowing five goals on 22 shots.

The final goal came short-handed late in the second period and illustrated the dubious connection between suspect defense and goaltending. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews outmaneuvered Jackets defensemen Fedor Tyutin and Grant Clitsome to earn a clear path to Mason.

"There were goals in there that I didn't like and there was a lot of ugly stuff that we did to allow 2-on-1s and breakaways," coach Scott Arniel said for his reason for lifting Mason. "It was a little bit of both."

It's hard to analyze Mason's troubles without noting he plays behind a porous defensive corps. Are his mistakes what make them look so bad, or is it their shortcomings that put a young goalie with confidence issues at greater risk? Most would agree it's a combination.

Mason's record (15-13-2) speaks to his inconsistency, and his goals-against average (3.30) echo his struggles from a season ago.

Whether he has made strides from his sophomore season is debatable. What's hard to argue is he's placing faith in virtually the same defensemen that many thought needed to be upgraded over the summer.