COLUMBUS, Ohio – Maybe it was finally a sign of better things to come for slow-starting Columbus and youngster Ryan Johansen.
A big centre with all the tools to be an elite player, Johansen paced the Blue Jackets with a standout game Saturday night. He had a goal and two assists for a career-high three points as Columbus beat the New York Islanders 5-2 to snap a five-game losing streak.
“It’s a good feeling,” Johansen said. “We’re a little behind now. We’ve just got to look at the good things here and move forward.”
The Blue Jackets entered 5-10 and only three points from the NHL cellar. But the offence came to life, tying a season high for goals.
Brandon Dubinsky had a goal and two assists, matching his career best for points. Cam Atkinson and R.J. Umberger also scored for the Blue Jackets, who pulled away with three goals in the third period. James Wisniewski added an empty-net goal and an assist.
Asked what was different about the third period, Columbus coach Todd Richards said his team just stayed the course.
“I think we continued to play our game, which was the positive thing,” he said. “We capitalized on our opportunities. A big power-play goal gave our team some confidence.”
The line of Dubinsky, Johansen and Atkinson led the way with seven points to end Columbus’ longest skid in two years.
“I think we were just working off each other, getting in on the forecheck hard,” Atkinson said. “As soon as we did that it seemed like they were turning the pucks over and we capitalized on our opportunities.”
Last season’s Vezina Trophy winner, Sergei Bobrovsky, who had struggled of late, played his second consecutive strong game. He made 24 saves and punctuated his performance with an assist on Wisniewski’s goal.
The Blue Jackets went 2 for 4 on the power play and now hit the road for seven of their next eight games, including a long-distance swing through Western Canada.
“If it were to have gone the other way tonight it would be tough going into Washington and Boston on the road,” Johansen said. “Now we have some momentum.”
Frans Nielsen and Thomas Hickey scored for the Islanders, handed their third loss in a row. New York has only two wins in its last seven games.
Islanders coach Jack Capuano said there were some things he liked, and a lot he didn’t.
“They’ve got to figure it out,” he said of his players. “We’re not talking systems and structure. We’re talking battle. We lost a battle on Atkinson’s goal. We took a hit. It’s a game of physicality and we responded the wrong way.”
To make matters worse, with Brian Strait, Lubomir Visnovsky and Cal Clutterbuck already out of action, Thomas Vanek sustained an upper-body injury on his first shift and played only 23 seconds in his sixth game since being acquired from Buffalo.
New York had one power play and has not scored a man-advantage goal in seven games, going 0 for 22.
Evgeni Nabokov struggled controlling rebounds as the game went along. He stopped 24 of 28 shots and has allowed 17 goals in his last four games.
With the score tied at 2, Travis Hamonic was whistled for slashing 15 seconds into the third period and Umberger scored his third goal 12 seconds later, redirecting Wisniewski’s point shot.
“Our penalty kill let us down again,” Capuano said.
Atkinson followed at 3:24 with his fourth, shovelling Johansen’s rebound over Nabokov, positioned too deep in his net.
The two-goal cushion and mini offensive outburst for Columbus was a long time coming. Early in the second period, the Blue Jackets finally broke a 17-minute stretch without a shot on goal. Johansen soon followed with his fifth goal, scoring on a breakaway at 9:27 to make it 2-1 and give Columbus its first lead in about 310 minutes spanning six games.
Johansen blocked Hickey’s point shot and took off toward the Islanders net, with Dubinsky hitting him in stride. Johansen roofed a shot over Nabokov’s glove.
“I thought everybody was on the same page right from the start,” Johansen said. “We were all working together.”
The lead only lasted 4 minutes, though.
Hickey redeemed himself with his first goal of the season as the teams played four aside. He ripped a long-range shot that redirected off Johansen’s stick and past Bobrovsky.
Columbus was outshot 9-2 in the first period despite having two power plays. But late in the first man advantage, Dubinsky flicked a backhander from the slot through traffic. The puck hit the left post, with the rebound bouncing off Nabokov and in at 6:25 for Dubinsky’s fourth.
Nielsen scored his team-leading ninth to draw the Islanders even with 35 seconds left in the period. On the counter attack, Nielsen skated the distance along the right wing, cut to the high slot and ripped a shot that squeezed through Bobrovsky.
“We just wanted to manage those grey areas,” Johansen said. “A fast team like the Islanders, you’ve got to make sure you’re managing the puck well.”
NOTES: The Blue Jackets are 11-1-4 all-time against the Islanders, including 7-0-2 at home. … RW Marian Gaborik, without a goal in his last six games, hit the post early in the second period with Columbus on a power play. … Hamonic played his 200th NHL game.