COLUMBUS, Ohio – No one really expected the Columbus Blue Jackets to dramatically improve after having the worst record in the NHL last season and then trading star player Rick Nash.
One of the players picked up in that deal is giving fans hope, however.
Artem Anisimov scored twice in the second period, and Steve Mason stopped 32 shots to lead the Blue Jackets past the Detroit Red Wings 4-2 on Saturday night.
“I’m still learning Artie and his game,” coach Todd Richards said. “Maybe as he starts to figure out his teammates and they figure him out, there may be a lot more there.”
Anisimov was acquired last July in the blockbuster deal that sent Nash to the New York Rangers. The Blue Jackets also dealt a minor league defenceman and a conditional third-round pick to the Rangers for Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, Tim Erixon and a first-round pick.
Now Anisimov leads the offence-starved Blue Jackets with four goals.
He chose to talk more about what the entire team did than what he accomplished.
“We established the forecheck early and we just kept going, kept going,” the 24-year-old centre said. “We kept the momentum and just kept going.”
Mark Letestu added a short-handed goal, and James Wisniewski also scored for the Blue Jackets before leaving with a concussion after he struck the end boards with his back early in the second period. Fedor Tyutin had two assists.
Mason, who earned his first win of the season, overcame an early goal by Johan Franzen. Damien Brunner added his fourth goal in the final seconds.
“The guys did a great job stepping up with the extra ice time,” he said, referring to the loss of Wisniewski on the blue line. “You couldn’t be more happy with the way the guys played. It was the first full 60-minute effort that we’ve been looking for, and it was nice to get it at home.”
The Blue Jackets started the second period on the power play, but they were at their best 5 on 5.
Early in the period, Columbus lost Wisniewski. He was chasing the puck when Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader made contact with Nick Foligno, who then bumped into Wisniewski. He spun and hit the end boards hard, back first.
Wisniewski lay face down on the ice for a couple of minutes before medical personnel helped him turn over and eventually sit up. He was helped off the ice, skating between two teammates.
“It’s awful to see a guy lying there like he was,” teammate Jack Johnson said. “Your heart kind of stops for a minute. You could hear a pin drop in the arena. Once we saw him talking and move, it’s a huge sigh of relief.”
Anisimov got the first goal when Detroit defenceman Nicklas Kronwall tossed a blind pass that Anisimov intercepted. He carried the puck to the right corner, where he eluded Jonathan Ericksson, and lifted the puck over goalie Jimmy Howard’s shoulder.
“Their second goal was absolute garbage,” Howard said. “It just sort of took the wind out of our sails.”
Howard was asked to rate his play. He said, “Awful with a capital A.”
Late in the period, Columbus defenceman John Moore slid a pass to Anisimov as he skated in from the left wing. Anisimov faked and got Howard to commit, then pulled the puck back and backhanded it into the vacant net.
Asked what he attributed his two goals to, Anisimov said, “Practice.”
It was Anisimov’s first two-goal game since Nov. 11, 2010, when he was playing for the Rangers against Buffalo.
He made a run at a hat trick early in the third period, chipping the puck past Kronwall and then swooping in on Howard, who stopped his backhander.
Letestu made it 4-1 with a short-handed goal with 6:35 left, taking a lead pass from Dubinsky and sliding the puck between Howard’s pads for his third of the season.
“They had more energy, they played better and they got better and better as the game went on, and we got worse and worse,” said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, whose team played for a second straight night after beating Nashville 5-3 on Friday.
Detroit got on the board first—making it seven of the first nine games that Columbus gave up the first goal—when Johan Franzen scored his second. Kronwall’s blast from the left corner of the blue line got through, perhaps even clipping Franzen’s left skate, before Mason blocked it with his right pad. But Franzen was alone to jam in the rebound.
After Wisniewski tied it, the Blue Jackets took over.
“Our focus was better,” Richards said. “I like how we responded. We regrouped after the first period, and for 40 minutes I really liked our game.”
NOTES: Detroit also lost D Brendan Smith to a shoulder injury. … Howard played in his 200th NHL game. … Wisniewski’s goal stretched his point streak to four games (1-3-4). … Two Wings had birthdays: Todd Bertuzzi turned 38, and Jordin Tootoo is 30. Tootoo, who wears No. 22, was born on 2/2.