LOS ANGELES – Michael Peca returned to the Columbus Blue Jackets’ lineup and gave them instant offence.
Peca scored his team’s last two goals, including the winner with 5:05 left, leading the Blue Jackets to a 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night. He had missed the previous five games with headaches and a sore neck, the result of a collision with Nashville’s Dan Hamhuis on Dec. 23.
“You feel like you’re letting your team down when you’re not in the lineup, so you want to come back and do whatever you can to contribute and help the team win,” said Peca, a two-time winner of the Frank Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward.
“I felt pretty good and I certainly felt better as the game went on,” he added. “It was important for me to do a lot of things to make sure I stayed in the game – keep it simple and keep my shifts short. Obviously when you win, it’s a little bit more of a good feeling in here.”
Sergei Fedorov and rookie Joakim Lindstrom each had a goal and an assist for the Blue Jackets, who at 19-16-6 are off to the best start in the franchise’s seven-year history.
Brian Willsie, Dustin Brown and Patrick O’Sullivan scored for Los Angeles. The Kings have been held to three goals or less in 23 of their last 26 games.
Peca scored his 31st career game-winning goal on a tip-in of Jason Chimera’s one-timer from the top of the left circle after rookie Jared Boll circled the net with Alexander Frolov on his back before breaking free.
“Jared was coming around the net with a lot of speed, and when you do that, there’s going to be a little confusion initially,” Peca said. “Jason Chimera got into a great shooting position, yelled for the puck, and I just tried to face the shooter and get my stick into a position to get a piece of it.”
The Kings rallied three times from one-goal deficits. O’Sullivan tied it 3-all with 11:59 to play, batting the puck past Fredrik Norrena from just outside the crease with his stick low enough to withstand a video review.
“Our guys have confidence in their ability to score and they have confidence in their ability to come back,” coach Marc Crawford said. “They’re doing very creative things offensively, and we generated the kind of chances that should have resulted in a more favourable outcome for us. But we didn’t get it.”
Peca’s goal put the Blue Jackets ahead 3-2 at 6:05 of the second period. Boll fired the puck toward the net from a sharp angle in the right corner and Peca redirected it past Jean-Sebastien Aubin. Aubin was replaced at that point by Jason LaBarbera after facing just 12 shots.
“Michael’s an experienced guy, he’s very good on faceoffs, he’s defensive-minded player – and he even scored a couple of goals for us,” Fedorov said. “He reads the play pretty well, he was alert out there and played an extremely good game tonight.”
The Kings tied the score 2-all at 2:27 of the second when O’Sullivan shook off a check by Adam Foote at the left boards and took a 20-foot backhander from the slot that caromed off Brown and into the net. It was Brown’s career-high 20th goal, three more than he had in 81 games last season.
At 12:21 of the first period, Lindstrom passed the puck into the slot from the left boards and Fedorov beat Aubin to the stick side with a 25-foot wrist shot along the ice.
Willsie tied it just 13 seconds after the first intermission. Columbus centre Jiri Novotny tried to backhanded the puck around the boards from behind his own net, but Rob Blake intercepted it along the right wall and took a shot from the top of the circle that Willsie redirected past Norrena’s glove.
Lindstrom regained the lead for Columbus just 76 seconds later, beating Aubin high to the stick side with a 15-foot wrist shot from the left circle.
“It was a discouraging loss because I thought that we carried most of the play,” Crawford said. “Anytime we mustered some momentum, they scored an easy goal. You cant’ get too discouraged, but it is disheartening at times.”
Notes: Aubin came in 3-0 lifetime against Columbus with a 2.31 goals-against average. All three wins came while he was with Pittsburgh. In two of them – both at Columbus – the Penguins pulled Aubin for an extra attacker in the final minute of regulation and scored the tying goal before winning in overtime. … Fedorov’s two points increased his career total to 1,126, tying Joe Nieuwendyk for 50th place on the career list. He also has 468 goals, tying him with Pat LaFontaine for 50th. … Peca, who missed the final 47 games of last season with Toronto after breaking his leg, has played all 82 games of a season only once in 11 NHL campaigns as a regular. That was in 1998-99 with Buffalo, when he scored a career-high 27 goals.