It’s been a tough run for the veteran defenseman but with more help and less responsibility, he’s helped his squad become one of the beasts of the East
Jack Johnson hasn’t forgotten the past, but he’ll be more than happy to bury it. Now in his sixth season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the veteran defenseman has seen just one playoff appearance and way too many losses during his tenure. But this year, the Blue Jackets have been one of the best teams in the entire NHL and if you’re asking about what’s different, Johnson doesn’t mince words.
“Oh, man,” he said. “There’s a million different things.”
The first that comes to mind for the rearguard is coach John Tortorella, who took over early last season, but didn’t get to put his famously arduous training camp routine into place. Instead, the Stanley Cup-winning bench boss just did what he could.
“He had a lot of work to do with us,” Johnson said. “We had hit rock-bottom mentally and it was a big challenge for him to turn us around. It’s actually amazing how quickly he did it.”
This season, the punishing pre-season testing resumed, but the results speak for themselves: Columbus has not only racked up wins, but the team’s conditioning seems to be a big part of the success. The Jackets have scored nearly twice as many goals in the third period as they’ve given up and have a 3-4-2 record when trailing after two periods, tying them for second-best in the league.
Ironically, Johnson is playing fewer minutes than he had been in the past, but that’s just fine with him. He’s still playing 21 minutes per contest, but now he’s got a solid crew around him, including Seth Jones, David Savard and super-rookie Zach Werenski.
“This is the first time since I got here that the minutes have been spread out,” Johnson said. “Teams that are desperate for wins will shorten the bench and it’s not ideal.”
Taking on less of a burden has also upped Johnson’s stats. For the first time in years, he’s a positive Fenwick player, while his Corsi numbers have also improved markedly. Part of that may be a rising tides/lifting all boats scenario, but he’s also not facing top lines as much as he used to. And if you want to go old-school, Johnson now has one of the best plus-minus ratings on the team at plus-13 – he used to be a double-digit minus player.
Which is all a long way of saying that things are lot sunnier in Columbus than they used to be. In Werenski, the Jackets not only have a Calder Trophy candidate and power play ace, but a fellow Michigan alum for Johnson to hang out with in the heart of Ohio State territory.
Johnson says the Buckeye faithful are nice to him despite his Maize and Blue allegiances, but everyone in Columbus is cheering now that the Jackets have been transformed.