COLUMBUS, Ohio – Derick Brassard’s first multipoint game in more than three weeks helped Todd Richards get a winning home debut as interim coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Brassard had a goal and an assist—and blocked a shot in the final seconds—to lead the Blue Jackets to a 4-3 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes on Friday night.
“I just had fun on the ice. When I have fun and I can play my game, I think I can be pretty effective,” said Brassard, hardly a favourite of former coach Scott Arniel. “That’s what I did tonight. I didn’t do anything different. I felt like I had trust from my teammates and coach. I just started to play my game and everything went fine.”
Brassard’s last multipoint game was Dec. 22 at Nashville, and he had just three points in eight games since.
Richards was elevated after Arniel was fired on Monday after the Blue Jackets went 11-25-5 for the NHL’s worst record. Columbus lost his debut the following day, 5-2 at Chicago.
The head coach of the Minnesota Wild from 2009-2011 said he wasn’t sure he was responsible for the Blue Jackets’ open, free-flowing play.
“I don’t know how much of that was created by me,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just a simple thing (like) change. As a coach, you come in and it’s a different voice, a different way.”
Rick Nash also scored and Tomas Kubalik and Ryan Russell each had their first NHL goals. Curtis Sanford had 32 saves for the Blue Jackets, who had lost two in a row and four of five. They have several top players (Jeff Carter, R.J. Umberger, Kristian Huselius, James Wisniewski and Mark Letestu) sidelined by injuries, but still played one of their best games in weeks.
Lauri Korpikoski had a goal and two assists, Radim Vrbata a goal and a helper and Oliver Ekman-Larsson two assists for the the Coyotes, who have lost four road games in a row. Adrian Aucoin also scored.
“We got off to a good start and then made a couple of poor reads to give up the lead early and chased the game the rest of the way,” coach Dave Tippett said.
Columbus, which led 2-1 after a period, took a two-goal lead by scoring early and late in the second period.
Following the lead of Kubalik, Russell scored at the 1:52 mark on a wraparound off a rebound.
Phoenix cut the lead to a goal when Ekman-Larsson left a drop pass for Vrbata, whose centring pass into a crowd went off the left skate of Korpikoski as he rushed the net.
Sanford smothered a redirect by Shane Doan on a Coyotes power play shortly before Brassard pushed the lead to 4-2.
He took the puck and skated in a circle from the short boards near the Blue Jackets bench to the high slot before wristing a hard, high shot past Jason LaBarbera for his sixth of the year.
The Coyotes pulled to 4-3 in the third period when Korpikoski’s long stretch pass found Vrbata behind the Columbus defence. He came in all alone on Sanford and scored on a backhander.
Late in the game, Brassard failed to clear the puck but recovered to block a shot. It was an opportunity—playing with the game on the line in the waning seconds—that he was seldom given under the previous coaching regime.
“At the end, when they pulled their goalie, I was in there,” he said. “For me, it’s a great challenge. I’ve never been in that situation and I felt when I blocked that shot at the end … I just felt that I needed to do it for the team. I was just really excited to be there and finish the game.”
Richards was happy that Brassard contributed in so many ways.
“He played a hard game, one of his hardest-working games. And he was rewarded for it with a great goal,” Richards said. “He made some great plays, and in the end he makes a block, really where he sacrifices himself. The important thing is the rest of the team sees him do that. And, to me, that’s a huge step.”
NOTES: Columbus Umberger missed the game due to a concussion, ending his franchise record for consecutive games played at 288. He had played in 291 straight games, the fifth-longest active streak in the NHL. … The Coyotes did not skate Friday morning after flying in from a 3-2 shootout loss in Detroit. … Vrbata has goals in his last three games and points in his last four. …Blue Jackets D Aaron Johnson set a career high with his third straight game with an assist while stretching his points streak to four games in a row. … It was the second time this season two Blue Jackets players scored their first NHL goals in the same game. D John Moore and C Ryan Johansen did it on Oct. 25 in 4-1 win over Detroit.